Thursday, July 19, 2007

Hearing: The "Hoshinmaru" Case

On July 6, Japan filed two applications with the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea requesting the release by Russian authorities of two Japanese-flagged fishing vessels and their crew "upon such terms and conditions as the Tribunal shall consider reasonable." The first case concerns the "88th Hoshinmaru"; the second concerns the "53rd Tomimaru". Both vessels were detained for alleged violations of Russian fisheries legislation. The applications were made under Article 292 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and they allege breaches of Article 73(2) of the Convention. Article 73(2) requires that "[a]rrested vessels and their crews shall be promptly released upon the posting of a reasonable bond or other security." A hearing in the "Hoshinmaru" Case (docketed as Case No. 14) took place today and will continue tomorrow. A hearing in the "Tomimaru" Case (docketed as Case No. 15) is scheduled for Saturday.

Illegal fishing in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) along Russia's Pacific coast by vessels flying a variety of flags (Chinese, Japanese, North Korean, and Russian, as well as others) is frequent and has significant economic and environmental impacts. (Some of the confrontations between Russian authorities and Japanese boats take place in waters near the disputed Kuril Islands, where one Japanese fisherman was killed last year by fire from a Russian Coast Guard vessel. The two cases pending before the ITLOS apparently do not raise issues relating to the sovereignty of these islands.) At today's hearing, the Japanese agent alleged that nine Japanese vessels were arrested in the Russian EEZ during the period 2004-2006. These numbers, and the long detentions of the Japanese ships and crew, gave Japan "no other choice" than to institute these proceedings.