Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 101

After a long chase, a Russian border forces vessel on May 25 fired on a Chinese fishing boat. The attack left two fishermen dead and five wounded. The incident took place some 120 miles southeast of the Kamchatka Peninsula. The Russian vessel began chasing the Chinese boat on May 24, after Russian border forces were alerted by the U.S. Coast Guard that the Chinese boat was fishing illegally in the Bering Strait. A Russian Border Forces spokesman said that the Russian vessel had fired a number of warning shots at the Chinese boat, but that the fishermen had failed to respond. Russian border guards personnel, who boarded the Chinese boat, said that they had found some fifty tons of fish on board. At least one other Chinese boat, also said to have been poaching in the area, reportedly escaped. (Reuter, AP, Russian agencies, May 26)

Russia’s Foreign Ministry expressed its “sincere regret over the human losses” which occurred during the incident. A ministry spokesman, however, insisted that the border guards had acted “in full compliance with Russian legislation and norms of international sea law.” He said that the Chinese boat had been guilty of a “brazen violation of the regime of the economic zone and poaching.” He also said that he hoped there would be no more such confrontations in the future. (Itar-Tass, May 26)

The incident was reminiscent of two earlier occasions when Russian border guard vessels fired with deadly effect on Japanese boats fishing the waters off Russia’s disputed Kuril Islands. On those occasions, Russia’s Foreign Ministry also defended the Border Guard actions. The Kremlin has been careful to cultivate friendly ties with China. It will be interesting to see whether the latest incident in any way roils relations with Beijing.

Moscow recently signed a fishing agreement with Japan to regulate fishing off the Kurils (the accord took effect on May 21). Regional authorities in Russia’s Far East, however, continue to complain of what they say is widespread poaching along the country’s east coast. Last week, fishermen, officials from the fish processing industry and other interested parties attended a meeting in Vladivostok at which participants called for the Sea of Okhotsk to be made off limits to foreign fishermen. (Itar-Tass, May 21) The demand appears to reflect bitterness over broader problems afflicting Russia’s Far Eastern fishing industry as well as resentment toward foreign boats.