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    Russia to release diabetic Japanese captain from detained vessel

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    TOKYO, December 19 (RIA Novosti) - The captain of a Japanese vessel detained last week for illegally entering Russian territorial waters will be returned to Japan due to health problems, Japan's foreign minister said on Wednesday.

    On December 13, Russian customs officers detained four Japanese fishing vessels near the South Kuril Islands, former Japanese territory off Russia's Pacific Coast, for poaching. Inspections revealed that out of 11 boats only seven had permission to trawl in Russian waters. One of the detained captains suffers from diabetes.

    Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura said the captain will be taken to Japan by a Japanese coast guard vessel on Thursday, and that "Japan will continue talks with Russia on the release of the remaining crew members."

    Confrontations over poaching between Russian authorities and Japanese fishing vessels are frequent in Russia's Pacific waters. Last August, a Japanese fisherman was shot dead near the Kuril Islands when Russian border guards opened fire at his boat after it refused to stop.

    The incident further strained relations between Russia and Japan, which have contested the ownership of the Kuril Islands for over 60 years, a dispute that has kept the two countries from signing a formal peace treaty after World War II.

    Last week, Russia's State Fisheries Committee announced that Russia would launch a crackdown on illegal exports of crab and other bio-resources to Pacific Rim countries from the beginning of 2008.

    In 2006, a total of 80 fishing vessels made illegal catches in Russia worth over 900 million rubles ($36 million). In the last two years a total of 7 million tons of illegally-caught seafood, worth 230 million rubles ($9.2 million), has been seized in Russia's Bering and Okhotsk Seas.

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