An Estonian fishing boat captain who has been detained in the Kaliningrad exclave of the Russian Federation since mid-May still has not been freed, despite his crewmates and the vessel being released, following the payment of bail totaling €700,000.
On May 10, Russian border personnel apprehended the trawler, called the Roxen, and her crew, after she had inadvertently strayed into Russian waters.
The boat held about 300 tons of freshly-caught fish, about 7.5 tons of which had been caught within the Russian Federation's maritime borders.
The Roxen was impounded and the crew detained, facing charges of poaching, and bail of €700,000 was demanded by Russian authorities.
While both the three crewmates and the vessel herself, which flies under the Finnish flag for EU fishing quota reasons but is operated by a company, Morobell, based in Haapsalu, western Estonia, were released upon the bail payment in late June, the captain is still being held in a Kaliningrad hotel, and may face lengthy imprisonment as well as heavy fines, BNS reports.
An Estonian consul was dispatched to Kaliningrad early on in the case, and foreign minister Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) was kept abreast of developments. Bail figures mentioned in the media ranged from €674,000 to €720,000, with the actual eventual figure being roughly the midpoint.
"I keep hoping they'll let me go eventually. Why do they need to keep me here? I never thought they would detain me for so long. At first, they said we would be home in a week or ten days at the most," the 54-year-old captain, who has not been named in the media, said, according to daily Postimees. Some reports say he will be held at least to the end of July.
A new captain was flown in from Estonia to take the Roxen to Denmark, her original destination, where she can also offload the now-rotting fish.
Criminal proceedings have also been launched against the captain on the basis of a section of the Russian Criminal Code concerning illegal fishing, according to BNS, a crime by compulsory labor, or imprisonment, for three to five years and with a fine of between half a million and one million rubles (€6,540 to €13,100) or alternatively with a fine equaling three to five years' the detained person's annual salary.
Russian authorities say the vessel was there deliberately and knowingly; Morobell said at the time the Roxen was seized that an error in electronic navigational charts was to blame.
While the Kaliningrad Oblast prosecutor's office says the 7.5 tons of fish caused €700,000 (50 million Rubles) worth of damage to the country's ecological resources, the market value of the illicitly-caught fish is a reported €1,500, approximately.
The whole 300-ton complement would have been worth around €80,000 fresh, BNS says.
Editor: Andrew Whyte