Incidents Escalate Between Russia and North Korea over Illegal Fishing

Russian border guards opened fire on a Korean fishing vessel in the Sea of Japan on Wednesday in waters Moscow considers its own exclusive economic zone, RIA news agency reported.

“As a result of the attack, a fire occurred in the engine room of the vessel. Its entire crew – 21 people – were evacuated, the fire was extinguished, and five injured poachers were helped. All the detainees were then taken to Nakhodka,” Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) said in a statement.

On Tuesday, the border authorities said they detained 87 North Korean poachers and 11 small vessels. It was the third such round-up of North Korean fishermen in recent weeks amid what the Kremlin has said is a concerted clampdown on illegal poaching.

Last week, Russia detained three North Korean vessels and more than 200 crew, and on Sept. 17, it seized a North Korean vessel, prompting a second one to open fire. A North Korean fisherman later died from wounds suffered in the attack.

The detentions have sparked a rare confrontation between North Korea and Russia, which sees itself as an important player in international talks on defusing nuclear tensions around the reclusive state’s missile programme and an ally to Pyongyang.

Dmitry Peskov, President Putin’s spokesman, said recently that Russia would “impose order” in the region, but that the clampdown would not otherwise affect generally friendly relations with North Korea. The country, reeling under sanctions over its weapons program, has for years struggled with food shortages and a dysfunctional state rationing system.

RIA said the latest arrests were made by Russia’s Federal Security Service from Sept. 28-30 and more than 4,000 squid and banned fishing equipment were also seized.

It said border guards had also saved the lives of 174 North Koreans from 26 fishing vessels that had got into distress in the same period.