Russia says to protect trawlers in Arctic Ocean

The sun shines low in the sky just after midnight over a frozen coastline near the Norwegian Arctic town of Longyearbyen, April 26, 2007. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia will send two ships to guard its Arctic fishing fleet from being seized by Norway’s coast guards, Interfax news agency quoted the head of Russia’s fisheries committee Andrei Krainiy as saying on Thursday.

Norway and Russia dispute authority over an area of prime fishing water around the Arctic Ocean archipelago of Svalbard, known as Spitzbergen by the Russians.

In recent years Russian trawlers have clashed with the Norwegian navy, which accuses them of illegal fishing.

“We will have funds to charter two ships on Monday and send them out to protect our fishing trawlers near Spitzbergen,” Krainiy told a news briefing.

A 1920 treaty handed Norway control of the islands but in 1977 Norway unilaterally established a 200 mile zone around Svalbard which Russia does not recognize.

Krainy said the protection ships would operate all year round.

“I think the number of Russian vessels seized, like the Elektron and the Izumrud, will be much smaller,” he said.

In 2006 a Norwegian coastguard boat chased the Russian trawler Elektron across the Arctic Ocean for six days before it escaped into Russian waters. The Norwegians had accused the Elektron of fishing illegally, an accusation it denied.

Writing by James Kilner; Editing by Alastair Sharp