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Cutter Steams To Assist American Crab Fleet

August 11, 1986

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) _ A Coast Guard cutter Sunday joined a U.S. crab fleet it was sent to protect during efforts to retrieve gear abandoned when Soviet vessels chased one of the crabbers from disputed waters in the Bering Sea.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Glenn Rosenholm said the crew of the 378-foot Midgett, based in San Francisco, was meeting late Sunday with skippers of the Katie K of Seattle and at least two other crabbers about 120 miles west of St. Matthew Island to discuss retrieval of about 150 crab pots.

The retrieval mission was set for 9 a.m. Monday, with the forecast calling for overcast skies, occasional rain and light winds, Rosenholm said.

″The entire operation should take no more than an hour to an hour and a half or so,″ he said .

One proposal called for aerial reconnaissance by an HC-130 airplane from Kodiak, about 780 miles away, but it was unclear whether that plan would be followed, Rosenholm said.

He said he didn’t know what plans had been made in the event of a Soviet show of force. The Midgett carries a 5-inch gun at the bow and some .50- caliber machine guns, he added.

Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, said Saturday the cutter would locate the crab pots, valued at $200 to $300 each, and watch as they were recovered.

Most of the pots were from the Katie K, but some also were believed to be from at least two other boats, Rosenholm said.

″We’re almost certain the Soviets won’t want to keep the crab pots,″ Tom Parks, owner of the Katie K, told The Anchorage Times. ″I’d lose more than $50,000 in fishing equipment if the pots are not reclaimed.″

″We never thought there would be any problem about where we put our pots, because the day we did it there were several Japanese fishing vessels in the area, but no Soviets,″ Parks said. ″We were simply putting out a bunch of test pots to see if the area was good for harvesting crab.″

Parks, 39, said the pots were scattered in a 20-mile radius about 95 miles east of Cape Navarin in the Soviet Union. The 108-foot Katie K was one of about 60 vessels fishing in the area Wednesday when it was approached by two Soviet vessels, the Coast Guard said.

One Soviet vessel was described as an inspection vessel; the other’s description was unknown.

Officials on one Soviet vessel told Katie K it was fishing in Soviet waters. As the Soviet boat attempted to come alongside, the other Soviet craft fired two flares and started lowering its small boat, the Coast Guard said.

The Katie K turned for Alaska and was pursued for an hour and 40 minutes before the Soviet vessels turned back.

This weekend, the Katie K and other crab boats were waiting about 40 miles from where the chase originated.

The Katie K was fishing in an area that has been disputed since Russia sold Alaska to the United States in 1867. The dispute is over whether the line drawn when Alaska was sold was an international boundary or a less significant maritime boundary.

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