Coast Guard Asked to Free Japan Sailors

TOKYO -- Tokyo has asked the Russian coast guard to promptly release 10 Japanese crew members seized aboard their fishing boat while off Japan's northern coast, the top government spokesman said Wednesday.

The crab fishing boat No. 38 Yoshimaru was caught Tuesday night off the northern coast of the Noto Peninsula in an area believed to be outside Japanese territorial waters.

Seizures of Japanese fishing boats by Russian authorities in disputed waters between Japan's northern island of Hokkaido and the Russian-held Kuril Islands are not uncommon, although the latest incident occurred in waters several hundred kilometers away.

The Russian coast guard told Japan's Foreign Ministry that the boat was seized because it was illegally operating in Russia's exclusive economic zone, chief Cabinet secretary Takeo Kawamura said at a news conference.

The ship and the fishermen, who are in good health, were being taken to Russia's port of Nakhodka for investigation, he said.