Soviet cadets apparently take unscheduled liberty

July 23, 1991|By S. M. Khalid John Rivera of The Sun's metropolitan staff contributed to this article.

An article in yesterday's Sun gave an incorrect figure for the number of Soviet citizens who were denied political asylum in the United States last year. The number is 51.

The Sun regrets the errors.

A Soviet tall ship was to sail out of the the Inner Harbor this morning short-handed, a day after two of its young cadets apparently took an unscheduled liberty to request asylum at the downtown office of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

The two cadets, identified by crew members as Alexei Litovko and Pyotr Zolotorev, apparently left the Soviet training vessel Kruzenshtern moored along the west wall of the Inner Harbor, about 1 p.m. yesterday.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

The two cadets, described by other crew members as around 20 and from Kaliningrad, then apparently ran through Harborplace and into the immigration office at Hopkins Plaza, on Lombard Street.

The four-masted training ship, which carries 160 cadets, 20 officers, eight teachers and 45 crew members, has been on a goodwill visit in Baltimore and open to visitors since July 12.

INS district director Walter D. Cadman said last night that he could not confirm or deny that the two cadets had requested asylum. But, he said, "We know of the whereabouts of the two gentlemen, and we would simply say that they're safe and they're well."

When asked if it were possible that the two cadets were back on board the Kruzenshtern, Mr. Cadman said, "That would be an unsafe assumption."

He added that processing an asylum request could take anywhere from a week to several months and that his agency would have no comment until such a request was resolved.

Mr. Cadman said that an INS official had visited the Kruzenshtern yesterday, but he would not disclose what the nature of the visit to the vessel was or if the apparent defection was discussed with the ship's captain. He said that it was not unusual for INS agents to visit foreign vessels when they come to or leave the Port of Baltimore.

Agents routinely talk with ship captains and muster the crew to keep an accurate accounting of foreign crews.

An INS spokesman in Washington, Verne Jervis, said, "I have no knowledge of this, and it's not something I should comment on if I did."

A State Department spokeswoman said last night the department hadn't gotten any information, but pointed out that the INS and FBI are usually the first points of contact in such situations.

William M. Runnebaum, assistant vice president for NCNB National Bank, arrived at the ship about 6 p.m. to remind five of cadets -- whom he'd befriended earlier -- of a cookout at his Federal Hill home last night.

He said one of the cadets told him from over the rail of the ship that no one could leave.

When he asked to go aboard, Mr. Runnebaum said, he was escorted to the captain-on-duty, who explained that no one would be allowed to leave.

Before leaving the ship, Mr. Runnebaum said, he saw the Kruzenshtern's first officer, whom he described as being red with anger, with two maroon-bound passports in his hands.

Crew members told him the first officer was holding the passports of the two cadets.

A crew member later told Mr. Runnebaum that two cadets had jumped ship after they had been told earlier in the day by the ship's captain that no crew members would be allowed to leave the Kruzenshtern on its last day in Baltimore.

"It came as quite a surprise to me," Mr. Runnebaum said.

"They all obviously like [the U.S.]," he said. "They've been limited to what they can do because of the convertibility of their money. But most expressed that they wanted to stay in the Soviet Union. They all have family."

Last night, the remaining cadets lined up on the deck of the ship and talked over the side to those on the pier.

Asked what the two missing cadets were like, the cadets on board the ship said, "They were completely normal guys. They were good students."

Crew members said they didn't know why the two had left but said that although the Soviet Union now has open immigration, getting money, tickets and permission to leave were still a problem.

When asked why the two cadets would chose to defect now, one of them replied: "They were already here."

Five or six of the cadets said that the two were seeking asylum, but it was unclear how the other cadets would have known such information. The cadets said that as far as they knew, the two cadets have parents in the Soviet Union but no wives or children. No one on the deck knew whether the ship's officers were trying to contact the two men.

Duke Austin, another spokesman for the INS, said last night that there been a significant increase in Soviets who want to defect. Last year, 1043 sought asylum in the United States, he said. Of those, 260 were granted asylum and 240 were denied. The rest of the cases were pending at the end of the year, he said.

The Kruzenshtern, a 1926 bark from Tallinn, Estonia, has been docked at the Inner Harbor for 10 days. Tourists had been allowed aboard for escorted tours, and uniformed Soviet naval cadets have become a familiar sight at the Inner Harbor, mingling and taking photographs.

The Kruzenshtern was to leave today at 9 a.m. for her next port of call, Bremerhaven, Germany.

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