Soviets Free American Observer
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) _ An American observer aboard a Japanese fishing vessel seized by the Soviet Union was released Thursday, the U.S. Coast Guard said.
Becky Kruppenbach was taken aboard the cutter Munro at 8:03 a.m., and her gear was transferred off the Fukunu Maru, said Mike Hilley, spokesman at the regional Coast Guard headquarters in Juneau.
Contrary to earlier reports that the Japanese boat had been taken to a Siberian port, Hilley said the vessel was present along with a Soviet navy ship during the transfer.
Ms. Kruppenbach was in good shape, and will be taken to Dutch Harbor, 10 to 15 hours away, Hilley said.
The transfer took place in international waters between 20 and 50 miles south of Cape Olyutorsky in Siberia, Hilley said.
Ms. Kruppenbach was aboard the Japanese vessel on behalf of the National Marine Fisheries Service to monitor compliance with catch quotas in U.S. territorial waters in the Bering Sea.
State Department spokesman Bernard Kalb said the Soviets have not said why the vessel was seized early Tuesday, but added it may have been in retaliation for Japan’s seizure of a Soviet fishing boat April 18. That vessel apparently still is being held by the Japanese, he said.
The warship likely did not realize an American was on board, said Yevgeniy Chaplin, first secretary of the Soviet embassy in Washington.
″It is my understanding, as far as I know, it was a military ice breaker and they didn’t know how to communicate with a fishing vessel,″ he said.
The waters where the Japanese boat was seized are claimed by both the United States and the Soviet Union.
Russ Nelson, a fishery biologist who supervises the NMFS observer program, said Ms. Kruppenbach was hired on a temporary basis through a contractor. It was her third voyage as an observer, he said.
Observers are hired on a ″trip-by-trip″ basis,″ and there was nearly 500 in 1984, he said.