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Russian Ships Head for Trawler

November 20, 2002

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VLADIVOSTOK, Russia (AP) _ Russian naval and border guard ships sped Wednesday to a Russian fishing vessel in the Sea of Japan after a report that it had been seized by gunmen.

The ships’ aim was to escort the trawler Tulun to a Russian port where officials could sort out an array of contradictory claims about what happened to the vessel.

On Tuesday, Russian officials said they had received reports from Japanese and South Korean law enforcement agencies that the Tulun had been seized by gunmen while in international waters on Saturday.

However, the South Korean maritime police denied any knowledge of the seizure.

On Wednesday, the deputy head of the coast guard in Vladivostok, Capt. Alexander Ivankov, said shots were fired from the Tulun at a small vessel carrying representatives of one of the trawler’s owners. The incident took place near the South Korean port of Pusan, he said.

Ivankov said there had been no radio contact with the trawler, but the Interfax news agency said a telegram had been sent from the Tulun saying that none of the 22 people aboard had been hurt and that the vessel was heading for its home port of Kholmsk, on Sakhalin Island.

The report cited an unnamed official in the Russian Transportation Ministry as saying there had been no armed seizure of the trawler and that the matter centered on a dispute between owners of the vessel.

Russia’s Pacific fishing fleet is believed to be under the tight control of organized crime groups.

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