A Japanese fishing boat and its five-member crew seized by Russia in disputed waters earlier this month returned to Japan early Thursday, a Japanese official said.
The 19-ton No. 78 Eiko Maru, seized Nov. 2 off Kunashiri, one of four disputed islands north of Japan's northernmost island state of Hokkaido, returned to the island's port of Rausu early Thursday from Kunashiri's Yuzhno-Kurilsk with all five crew members on board, according to Coast Guard official Kazumi Konno.
Russian authorities told Japan they seized the boat because it was carrying shrimp, clams and other kinds of fish that it was not allowed to catch in the area.
Under a bilateral agreement, Japanese fishing boats are allowed to enter the disputed waters to catch certain types of fish at specified times of year. Currently, Japan is allowed to catch mackerel and pollack.
This was the first seizure of a Japanese boat by Russian authorities after that agreement came into force in 1997, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said on condition of anonymity, citing government regulations.
The dispute over the islands, which were seized by Soviet troops toward the end of World War II, has prevented Russia and Japan from signing a peace treaty formally ending the war. Japan has demanded that Russia cede the islands.
The boat's return comes after a visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to Tokyo earlier this week. During that visit, Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi pledged to deepen economic ties while seeking a resolution to the territories issue acceptable to both countries, AP reports.