Russia Disputes Tanker Investigation

Thursday, August 16, 2001
Russia questioned the legality of a Canadian-U.S. probe into the alleged ramming last week off Massachusetts of an American trawler by a Russian-owned tanker, which resulted in the deaths of three fishermen. Sergei Palekhov, head of the Russian Transport Ministry's maritime section, said international law demanded the investigation be held in Cyprus, where the tanker Virgo is registered, and that Russian officials have access to the crew. "We would like to know what is being done to study the (other) ships -- and there were about 10 of them -- which were in the region of the U.S. trawler," Palekhov said. He added that the ministry had sent a letter to Canada's maritime authorities expressing its concerns. "We are also interested in why Russian authorities have not been asked to take part in the investigation, even though international law (demands) it," he said. Palekhov was echoing sources in Cyprus' Merchant Shipping Department, who said the United States and Canada had violated the U.N. Law of the Sea Convention by initiating criminal proceedings against the Virgo's Russian crew. The department has asked the island's attorney-general to rule on the issue, the Cyprus sources said. "This is a very, very explicit provision so it is more than clear that neither Canada nor the U.S. has jurisdiction here for criminal prosecution," the shipping sources told Reuters, adding that the alleged incident had happened in international waters, some 140 nautical miles off the coast. The tanker came under suspicion after three fishermen on the U.S. trawler Starbound were killed on August 5 when their boat was hit by an unidentified ship off the coast of Massachusetts. The Russian captain of the Virgo and two crew members were arrested at Washington's request on Tuesday in the Canadian province of Newfoundland. They appeared in court on Wednesday to learn the United States wanted to try them on charges including involuntary manslaughter. - (Reuters)

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