Third Soviet seaman may have asked for asylum after leaving merchant ship

July 24, 1991|By David Simon Peter Honey of The Sun's Washington Bureau and Keith Paul and Michael Ollove of the metropolitan staff contributed to this article.

Another Soviet seaman may be seeking political asylum in the United States after he left his merchant ship in Baltimore yesterday, a day after two cadets fled from a Soviet sailing vessel that visited the Inner Harbor on a goodwill tour.

Viktor Orshichovsky, 37, was reported missing yesterday morning from the M. V. Leonid Leonidov, a Soviet merchant vessel which had docked at the Rukert Terminals Corp. piers in the 2000 block of South Clinton Street.

The police issued a lookout for the seaman, who was found after his ship had sailed at 1 p.m., according to officials with the steamship trade line handling the Soviet ship. Mr. Orshichovsky had returned to the Rukert terminal and asked for both employment and political asylum, according to one source familiar with the case.

He was turned over to officials with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, who said last night that they know where Mr. Orshichovsky is and that he is safe. They declined to comment further on the case. Asylum procedures are confidential.

Rukert officials declined to comment on the incident, and a spokesman at the Soviet Embassy in Washington said yesterday that he had no knowledge of Mr. Orshichovsky's disappearance.

But Soviet officials did confirm that two cadets from the tall ship Kruzenshtern were in immigration service custody, having fled from their ship before it sailed from the Inner Harbor at 9 a.m. yesterday for Bremerhaven, Germany.

About 40,000 people visited the Kruzenshtern during its 11-day stay here. The 160 or so cadets from the ship, a German-built sailing vessel operated by the Soviet Union's Ministry of Fisheries, were granted leave to see the city, and they became a common sight as they toured the city.

"To leave your ship and your crew in another country is an irresponsibility. It is silly," said Ivan Rumiantsev, a spokesman with the Soviet press office in Washington.

Soviet officials emphasized that the cadets who fled from the Kruzenshtern are not military cadets but civilians being trained by the fisheries ministry. They played down the importance of the incident, saying it had little significance now that travel laws had been liberalized.

He noted that recent laws enacted by the Soviet parliament now make it possible for citizens to travel abroad while maintaining their citizenship. As a result, Mr. Rumiantsev said that he expected political asylum would probably be denied in this case, and he wondered who would then pay for the seamen's return.

On Monday night, other cadets on the Kruzenshtern were asked why the two crew members would flee when restrictions on travel abroad have been lifted by their government. The cadets replied that the two probably sought asylum because "they are already here."

Despite the more liberal travel policies, hard currency and airline tickets remain hard to come by in the Soviet Union.

The cadets, both civilians, were identified by Soviet officials as Aleksei Litovko and another man, Zolotarev, whose first name was given alternately as Pyotr or Aleksei by officials. Both were described by fellow cadets as being about 20 years old and from the Baltic port of Kaliningrad. They disappeared from the ship on Monday afternoon, fleeing to the immigration service office in Hopkins Plaza, about four blocks from the Inner Harbor.

In the case of Mr. Orshichovsky, a source familiar with that case said that the Soviet sailor became enamored of Baltimore after touring the city on Monday night.

The source, who asked not to be identified, said that the sailor left his ship about 4 a.m. yesterday, carrying a black satchel containing his few belongings. He then walked around the Inner Harbor and down to Locust Point, where he watched from Fort McHenry as his ship left its moorings across the channel.

Then, the sailor returned to the Rukert terminal offices, seeking work and asylum, according to the source. Immigration officials were then contacted, and the sailor was taken into custody.

People asking for political asylum go through a procedure that begins with an administrative hearing closed to the public. Duke Austin, an immigration service spokesman, said that typically, the hearing can occur within days of an application.

State department officials are asked for recommendations in every case, but the ultimate decision rests with immigration officials, who base their decision on an individual's risk of persecution in the event of their return.

"Obviously, anyone seeking asylum from a totalitarian state would be regarded more sympathetically than someone coming from, say, Canada," said Mr. Austin.

INS and State Department officials, however, declined to speculate on an asylum case involving a Soviet citizen.

In the event that asylum is denied at the initial hearing, an applicant can pursue a series of appeals through various administrative and judicial levels, culminating in appeals to federal immigration and appellate courts. Such processes can take months or years.

In the interim, applicants are allowed -- unless concerns for their safety require protective custody -- to reside in the U.S. and to pursue a vocation or receive social service assistance.

The ship's visit here was sponsored by Operation Sail, a non-profit group that has been hosting promotional tours since 1975, when the first tall ship was brought to the Inner Harbor during the bicentennial.

Despite the incident, a record-setting 40,000 people visited the ship and took guided tours, according to Operation Sail executive director Mary Sue McCarthy, who paid a courtesy call to the ship's captain before yesterday's departure.

The disappearance of the two seamen was not discussed, she said. "That is between the ship and immigration," she said, adding, "We always say goodbye to the captains of the visiting ships, and we got strong indications that they would come back next year."

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