Add another case to what might be called an epidemic of feverish disputes about fishing and other international rights issues in Svalbard, as Russia on Friday filed a formal protest with Norway over the detaining of a Russian trawler in the archipelago earlier month because it was operating within Norway’s fishery protection zone.
The protest follows three other detentions of Russian trawlers in recent years, plus a multitude of separate protests and other actions Russia has taken regarding what it calls Norway’s illegal interpretation of the Svalbard.
Also this week, a Latvian ship company was fined two million kroner in a by a Norwegian court for illegally catching 80 tons of snow crab in Svalbard, four years after the detaining of the vessel touched off a fierce legal battle with the European Union about access rights under the treaty. The battle took on global significance because the laws governing the seabed species are considered the same governing far more lucrative resources in the area such as oil.
The most recent incident involving Russia occurred April 2 when the vessel Borey was detained by the Norwegian Coast Guard within the 200-mile fisheries protection zone, which Norway claims authority over for access and quota purposes. A statement by Norway’s foreign ministry declared “the case was solved under normal procedure at sea and the vessel was released.”
Russia, which considers the zone illegal under the terms of the Svalbard Treaty that states signature nations have equal access to resources, sees the detention as a continuation of “Norway’s policy of illegally expanding its rights in the archipelago region,” Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova said in a prepared statement Friday.
Russian vessels have previously been detained in 2003, 2011 and 2016, with some politicians following the latter cases arguing ships should be free to fire upon Coast Guard vessels and take other action to prevent detentions and seizures. Russia has also initiated a multitude of other protests and provocative actions related to the treaty, including reviving a long list of grievances coinciding with the 100-year anniversary of the treaty in February.
Key aspects of Russia’s complaints are also being echoed by the EU, with the detention of a Latvian trawler in the summer of 2016 becoming a flashpoint that had some urging the matter be brought to the international criminal court in The Hague. Norway ultimately prevailed when the case reached Norway’s Supreme Court – widely expected by outsiders who questioned the court’s neutrality – and this week NRK reported the ship company was ordered to pay a fine of two million kroner and the ship’s captain a fine of 5,000 kroner.