- Russians must follow Norwegian law

Russian trawler.

Public prosecutor says Norway has no intention to change the routines in the fishery protection zone around Svalbard. Russian Fish Producers’ Union however claims that the fishing ground has status as an open sea where vessels are subject only to the laws of the country which owns them.


Russian trawler.
Norway and Russia disagree on the control regime in the fishery protection zone around Svalbard.
Photo: Thomas Nilsen

The September 28 arrest of the Russian trawler “Sapphire II” continues to be a headache in Norwegian, Russian relations in the north.

Public prosecutor for northern Norway, Lars Fause is surprised by the strong reactions from the Russian side.

- If the Russians don’t want to be upset, they should follow the laws that are enforced in the protection zone, Lars Fause says in an interview with Nordlys.

The public prosecutor says that if the Russians want to change the laws they must contact Norway’s Director General of Public Prosecutions.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was quoted by BarentsObserver earlier this week stating that the measures taken against violators of the fishing rules should be “adequate and proportion.”

And this is likely what has triggered the strong reactions from the Russian side regarding the arrest of “Sapphire II” by the Norwegian coast guard. Not only was the vessel arrested and towed to Tromsø, the crew was also refused from using the radio-room and the coast guard inspectors confiscated all documents, reports Rossiskaya Gazeta in an article strongly critical to the behavior of the Norwegian inspectors.

Simultaneously as the Norwegian and Russian foreign ministers at a press-conference in Kiruna on Wednesday were underlining that the dispute following the arrest of “Sapphire II” should not be called a conflict, the Council of Russian fishing industry workers asked Russian authorities to be tougher in defending their interests.

- According to the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea, in waters with the status of an open sea, vessels are subject only to the laws of the country which owns them, says Director of Fish Producers’ Union of Russia’s North Vasily Nikitin, interviewed by The Voice of Russia.

- I think that some laws should be adopted, which would say clearly that if any inspector checks any ships near Svalbard and finds any violations of any rules, he must not arrest the ship, but report to the country of which it belongs. And, it is the country to which the ship belongs that must punish the crew or the ship’s owning company in accordance with this country’s law, says Nikitin.

The captain on “Sapphire II” and the vessel’s owning company got a fine of NOK 450.000 (€57.000) before the vessel was released from arrest in Tromsø last week.

Russia does not acknowledge Norwegian jurisdiction in the waters around Svalbard stating that the 1920 Svalbard Treaty do not apply to the waters around the archipelago. Therefore, Russia claims that its vessels are not obliged to follow Norwegian law in the area unless the rules have been approved by the joint Norwegian, Russian fishery commission.

Read alsoRussia wants to discuss Svalbard Fisheries Protection Zone

Sapphire II” was arrested for illegally dumping of fish and is the sixth Russian trawler to be arrested by the Norwegian coast guard over the last three months, according to Rossiskaya Gazeta.