Estonian captain looking at release

Estonian fishing boat captain in Kaliningrad. PHOTO: Jaanus Piirsalu

Estonian fishing boat captain Rezo Kimmel, who was detained on suspicions of illegal fishing near Kaliningrad in early May, can hope to be released from house arrest in a Kaliningrad hotel to await trial in Estonia after his lawyer was told the conditions of his exit ban have been changed.

Lawyer Igor Voskoboinik first notified news agency Interfax of the ban having been lifted on Tuesday morning, while neither Kimmel nor the Estonian foreign ministry had any information yesterday.

Voskoboinik said Kimmel will have to return to Kaliningrad to attend court sessions. The next session in the civil matter of the fishing boat Roxen will be held in August, and the captain’s presence is required. The next session of the criminal matter involving Kimmel himself is scheduled for September 22.

Igor Voskoboinik told Postimees yesterday evening that he received a message from investigative organs on Monday, saying that because all procedures have been concluded, captain Rezo Kimmel’s exit ban has been changed. “Next, necessary documents need to be filed, and the captain can leave Russian to await the next court session abroad,” Voskoboinik said. He added that he believes paperwork could take a week.

Captain Rezo Kimmel remained less than enthusiastic yesterday. “Yes, I’ve heard the news. People keep calling me. I haven’t even met with the investigators yet. I hope to meet them in the coming days, and only then can we start discussing how all of this will work. We are far from me being released,” the captain told Postimees.

Representatives of the fishing boat’s owner OÜ Morobell were present in Kaliningrad yesterday and are prepared to offer the captain help in getting home. “We will get tickets and go once we are told that I’m free to go and all bans have been lifted. But I do not want to speculate before it’s a done deal,” Kimmel said. The captain added that something must be happening for his lawyer to go public with the information.

Spokesperson for the Estonian foreign ministry Liisa Toots said that ministry officials spent yesterday trying to get more information from Russian authorities, while no official information has been made available.

The Russian border guard detained Roxen on May 10 and accuses it of knowingly fishing in Russian economic waters, which the Estonian captain denies. Kimmel maintains they strayed into Russian waters after a navigation equipment malfunction. The trawl was lowered in international waters, and navigation tools did not suggest the boat had entered Russian waters.

The ship held approximately 350 tons of fish most of which was caught in EU waters. Fish caught in Russia’s economic waters came to 7.5 tons of sprat, herring and cod.

The Russian authorities are treating the matter as a criminal case and believe the captain misused his official position, knowingly entering Russian waters. The prosecution puts the damage caused by Roxen at €720,000 and has also brought a civil suit against the captain.

Morobell has posted bail of €720,000 to secure the ship’s release. The court released the boat and the remainder of its crew on June 26, while the captain’s detention continued.