Lithuania Says Russia Seized Ship As Baltic Tensions Grow

By Ott Ummelas and Bryan Bradley
September 19, 2014

Lithuania accused Russia of seizing a fishing boat from international waters, the latest in a wave of incidents that’s stoked tensions between the Baltic nations and their former Soviet master.

Russia’s ambassador in the capital, Vilnius, was summoned after the capture yesterday of the Juru Vilkas ship and its 28-member crew, Lithuania’s Foreign Ministry said today in a statement. The vessel is now heading toward Russia’s Arctic port of Murmansk, it said. Russia said the boat was poaching crab.

Russia should “abide by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea,” the Foreign Ministry said in its statement. It also urged the government in Moscow “to release the ship and its crew without delay.”

Russia’s relations have soured with the three Baltic countries as they led calls for tighter European Union sanctions against Vladimir Putin’s government over the conflict in Ukraine. The ship’s seizure coincides with a meeting in Vilnius of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s top military commanders. U.S. President Barack Obama pledged this month in the Estonian capital to step up defense of the Baltic region.

NATO approved increased security guarantees for Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — NATO members since 2004 — at a summit days later in Wales.

Since then, Lithuania has said Russia is reviving criminal prosecutions against its citizens who deserted the Soviet army or refused to serve after independence in 1990. Estonia has also accused Russia’s special services of snatching police officer Eston Kohver from Estonian territory, an allegation the government in Moscow denies.

‘Serious Violation’

The Baltic nations have reported a surge in Russian air and naval activity near its borders in recent months. Similar complaints have come from nearby Finland and Sweden, whose Foreign Ministry said today that Russian jets committed a “serious violation” of the country’s airspace on Sept. 17.

Data from the Lithuanian vessel’s satellite system proves the ship was in international waters, Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius said, according to the BNS news service. Three of the crew are from Lithuania, according to the ministry.

Russia’s Federal Security Service said border guards were complying with international obligations under the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission by seizing the ship. The boat was carrying an illegal 15-ton haul of crab, it said in a website statement. The vessel had strayed in Russian waters, Russia’s state-controlled Vesti television reported.

Norwegian coast guards tracked the vessel in international waters yesterday, Steve Olsen, a spokesman, said by phone. They don’t know whether the boat entered Russian waters, nor where it was and when it was seized, he said.