Soviet ship sails, minus 2 thought to have defected Soviet officials confirm sailors jumped ship.

July 23, 1991|By Joe Nawrozki and Elisha King | Joe Nawrozki and Elisha King,Evening Sun Staff

With about 75 onlookers waving goodbye from the Inner Harbor dock, a Soviet training ship sailed for Europe today minus two sailors who jumped ship yesterday and apparently sought asylum at the downtown office of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.

The two seamen were identified today by an official in the Soviet Embassy as Aleksey Zolotarev and Aleksey Litovka. Both are believed to be from from Kaliningrad and about 20 years old.

The embassy official in Washington said that both men are civilians, not cadets in the Soviet navy as earlier reported. The ship on which they served, the tall ship Kruzenshtern, is owned by the Ministry of Fisheries, he said, and the crewmen wear uniforms that are similar to the Soviet military.

"This all seems very silly, though," the official said. "Since our parliament adopted a law recently, every Soviet citizen can leave the country and return when he or she pleases."

The Sun reported today that the two left the Kruzenshtern yesterday afternoon and ran straight to the nearby INS office in Hopkins Plaza, about four blocks away.

A spokesman for the INS in Washington, D.C., said today that all asylum cases are "confidential because the applicant fears persecution from his government." The spokesman, Vern Jervis, would not comment on the two sailors.

Yesterday's incident reportedly was the second case within a week of a Soviet seeking asylum in the United States. According to a State Department spokeswoman, an unidentified Soviet seaman jumped ship in Jacksonville, Fla., "late last week" and requested asylum from federal officials there.

"As in all of these cases, this is in the purview of INS," the spokeswoman said today.

The INS district director in Baltimore, Walter D. Cadman, refused to confirm or deny that the two sailors had requested asylum. He did not answer calls to his office today.

But he told The Sun yesterday, "We know of the whereabouts of the two gentlemen, and we would simply say that they're safe and they're well." He indicated the sailors had not returned to the ship.

An FBI spokesman in the Baltimore office said today the agency would normally have a minimal interest in the Soviets "if they have any effect on foreign counter-intelligence." Dave Williams, the spokesman, said the FBI has made "no determination" in the Baltimore case.

The Kruzenshtern, a four-masted vessel with 160 seamen trainees, 20 officers, eight teachers and 45 crew members aboard, was docked in Baltimore for 10 days. Tourists were allowed on board for escorted tours, and uniformed Soviet sailors became a familiar sight at the Inner Harbor and at some suburban shopping malls.

William M. Runnebaum Jr., a private banker in Baltimore who resides in Federal Hill, arrived at the ship about 6 p.m. to remind five sailors he had befriended of a cookout at his home later last night. He said he had entertained some of the seamen "five or six other times. We had a great time."

Runnebaum said one of the Soviets told him over the ship's railing that the crew was not allowed to leave. When he asked to go aboard, Runnebaum said, he was taken to the captain-on-duty, who explained that no one from the crew would be allowed to leave.

A crew member later told Runnebaum that two sailors had

jumped ship after they had been told 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," 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."

Today, Runnebaum said, "They liked what they saw here in the past week. But there was an unwillingness to defect. There were, as I said, some who have families at home. There was another sailor who had been married only six months ago and wanted to go back home to his wife."

Last night, the remaining sailors lined the deck of the ship and talked over the side to people on the pier.

Asked what the two missing crew members were like, the sailors said, "They were completely normal guys. They were good students."

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

The next port of call for the Kruzenshtern is Bremerhaven, Germany.

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