December 10, 1977 Argentina: East European Fishing Boats Seized

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Issue Date: December 10, 1977

East European Fishing Boats Seized

The Argentine navy detained seven Soviet and two Bulgarian fishing vessels September 21-October 1 for allegedly fishing within Argentina's 200-mile jurisdictional limits in the South Atlantic.

Argentine cruisers seized four Soviet trawlers September 21, another Soviet ship September 28 and two Soviet and two Bulgarian vessels October 1. An Argentine ship fired on the Bulgarian trawlers when they resisted capture; both vessels were damaged and a Bulgarian sailor was wounded. In addition, three Argentine petty officers trying to board a Bulgarian trawler drowned when their boarding vessel capsized in a storm.

The captured ships were towed into Puerto Madryn on the Argentine coast, where their crews were arrested and their catches confiscated. It was not known when they would be released or how much the ships' captains would be fined for allegedly violating Argentine fishing laws.

The Soviet Union protested the seizure of the first four boats September 23, but Argentina replied that Moscow was well aware of Argentina's jurisdictional limits and its fishing rules. After the other three Soviet vessels were seized, the Soviet newspaper Izvestia denied October 8 that any of the ships had violated Argentine waters. The newspaper charged that the Argentine navy had refused to give Moscow position fixes on the area where the vessels had been captured.

The Argentine attack on the Bulgarian vessels was reckless by international maritime standards, according to the London Times November 4. It was extremely rare for a naval cruiser to fire on a defenseless fishing trawler, even if it ignored warning shots. However, the shelling was ordered by Argentina's naval commander, Admiral Emilio Massera, who allegedly said "the defense of [Argentina's] sovereignty is at stake."

Argentina was reported to have been overly sensitive to questions of territorial jurisdiction since April, when a British arbitration court settled a territorial quarrel between Argentina and Chile in Chile's favor. The dispute involved three small islands at the end of the Beagle Channel at the southern tip of South America, over which both countries claimed sovereignty. Since then, Chile had been claiming jurisdictional rights to a 200-mile zone in the Atlantic hitherto controlled by Argentina, the London Times noted.

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