MOSCOW/SEOUL (Reuters) - Russia on Wednesday accused North Korea of illegally detaining one of its fishing vessels and said it would freeze talks with Pyongyang on fisheries cooperation until the issue was resolved, the RIA news agency reported.
The Russian embassy in North Korea said earlier on Wednesday that North Korea detained 15 Russian and two South Korean crew members of a fishing vessel for violating entry regulations.
They were detained on July 17 by border guards, and were being held in a hotel in the coastal city of Wonsan, the Russian embassy in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang said on its Facebook page.
The ship, identified by the embassy as the Xianghailin-8, owned by the Northeast Fishery Company from Nevelsk in Russia, was also at Wonsan.
According to the embassy, North Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the crew was detained for violating rules of entry into North Korea.
But RIA cited Russia’s fisheries agency Rosrybolovstvo as saying shipping data showed North Korea’s actions had been illegal and the fishing boat had not entered its waters.
“We consider the ship’s seizure illegal as according to international law transit via the exclusive economic zone is allowed. According to Rosrybolovstvo’s monitoring system, the ship kept its distance from the coast and was outside the country’s territorial waters,” RIA cited it as saying.
Moscow would not hold any talks on fisheries cooperation with Pyongyang - which cover fishing quotas for North Korean fisherman in Russia’s far east - until the matter was satisfactorily resolved, it added.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry, in charge of inter-Korean affairs, said on Wednesday that the two South Korean sailors were safe and it had been striving to secure their freedom through consultations with their families, North Korea and Russia.
On Monday, Russian consular officials were allowed to meet the crew, whom they described as healthy.
The Russian embassy said it was in constant contact with the North Korean government and taking all necessary measures to resolve the situation.
Russia has maintained relatively close ties with North Korea, and has continued to be a regular trade partner.
South Korea has sought to ease tensions with its northern neighbour, but South Koreans are still banned by their government from going to North Korea without Seoul’s permission.
Reporting by Josh Smith in Seoul and Andrew Osborn in Moscow; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Andrew Cawthorne