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Pursuits

Searching for the Russian Crab Mafia

Officially, it’s sunk. So who’s poaching $700 million of king crab?
Searching for the Russian Crab Mafia
Illustration by Shannon Young

Finding a ship that doesn’t want to be found is almost impossible on Russia’s Sea of Okhotsk, 600,000 square miles of icy water north of Japan, and the Iskander was doing its best to remain hidden. The rusting hull of the 180-foot ship bore no name, and its transmitters had been disabled. In the right light, it might have disappeared into the low-hanging clouds that often blanket the waters off Russia’s east coast. But it didn’t.

According to a November 2013 incident report, the Border Guard Service of Russia—the functional equivalent of the U.S. Coast Guard—first tried hailing the unidentified ship. There was a moment of static before a response from the vessel crackled over the radio: “SRTM-K Breeze.” That is not, in fact, one of the ship’s many names, which in the last five years has gone by Afeliy, Costa Rapida, Status, and, most recently, Iskander. But what is a pirate to say?