Russia has turned over to a senior Japanese official the body of a crab fisherman shot by Russian maritime border patrol agents. The incident in disputed waters has strained relations between Russia and Japan, and brought back into focus their decades-old territorial dispute.
As the body of Mitsuhiro Morita, 35, was brought ashore Saturday afternoon, members of Japan's Coast Guard saluted the casket, draped in a white cloth.
Japan's vice foreign minister, Akiko Yamanaka, was aboard the Coast Guard patrol vessel, Saroma, to retrieve the body on Kunashir, an island claimed by Japan, but in Russian hands since the end of World War II.
It was in the disputed waters of the southern Kurils, an area Japan claims as its Northern Territories, that Russia's maritime border guards opened fire Wednesday on the Number 31 Kisshin Maru fishing boat. Morita was shot in the head.
Russia says the five-ton Japanese vessel was illegally catching crab in Russian waters, and that warning shots were fired only after the boat tried to escape.
After escorting Morita's body back to Japan, Vice Foreign Minister Yamanaka told reporters she had just met briefly with the captain of the Kisshin Maru and two other crewmembers being held by the Russians.
Yamanaka says the crew is in good health and being treated well, and that she expects all except the captain to be released soon. Yamanaka says the crew is stunned by the death of their deckhand. She did not question them about the shooting, because Russian officials were present throughout her brief meeting with them.
Japan has also dispatched Senior Vice Foreign Minister Yasuhisa Shiozaki to Moscow to seek the release of the detained crewmembers, who face poaching charges.
Under an agreement between the two countries, Japanese fishing boats must have permission from Russia to fish in the waters Moscow claims as its territory.
The shooting of the Japanese fisherman marked the first time in half a century that a clash between Russian patrols and Japanese fishermen had resulted in a death.
Japan has long demanded the return of four small island groups seized by Soviet Russia in the waning days of World War II, 61 years ago this month. The territorial dispute has prevented the two countries from signing a treaty, formally ending hostilities.