A Soviet sailor who twice jumped from his freighter into the Mississippi River and was twice returned to the ship by U.S. authorities was removed from the vessel today to be interviewed by American officials about whether he wants to defect.
The seaman, identified as Miroslav Medvid, was taken from the Soviet ship shortly before 5 p.m. CST. He was interviewed early this evening by U.S. officials on a nearby Coast Guard vessel, the State Department said.
"Soviet representatives also are on the ship," department spokesman Peter Martinez said. "They had agreed earlier in the day to this procedure."
A Coast Guard official here said late tonight that preparations were being made to bring Medvid ashore.
No additional details were available on the scene, but Reuter reported from Washington that the sailor was not feeling well and that the interview would be continued Tuesday. Quoting an unidentified State Department source, Reuter said the nature of the illness was not known.
The State Department would not confirm this report.
Medvid jumped ship twice, last Thursday and Friday, but both times was returned to the Marshal Konev by Border Patrol agents who apparently could not communicate with him and said at the time they thought he was a stowaway.
Since then, U.S. officials had sought to interview him "in a nonthreatening environment to determine his intentions," according to State Department spokeswoman Anita Stockman.
Medvid reportedly was interviewed aboard the buoy tender Salvia by a State Department representative who speaks Russian, an officer of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, a U.S. physician and an interpreter.
U.S. officials today revised earlier accounts of Medvid's attempts to leave the 102,000-ton grain freighter, adding further confusion to an already confused situation.
A spokesman for the INS in Washington said authorities interviewed Medvid on Thursday and determined that he did not want to defect.
Based on that determination, they returned him to the freighter, the spokesman said. Officials had made no previous mention of such an interview.
Earlier in the day, State Department spokesman Bernard Kalb told reporters he did not have information on why Medvid had been returned to the Soviet ship.
The incident began late Thursday when Medvid leaped from the deck of his ship, anchored here, about 10 miles southeast of New Orleans, and swam about 100 yards to shore. Border Patrol agents returned him to the vessel on a private launch, from which he also jumped as it approached the Soviet ship.
The captain of the launch, Raymond Guthrie, said over the weekend that Medvid was shouting "and didn't want to go back" to the Soviet ship. Guthrie refused further comment today.
Over the weekend, INS official David Lambert said, "The Border Patrol didn't understand what was going on and didn't realize he was trying to defect, and brought him back to his ship." But today, INS spokesman Duke Austin in Washington said Border Patrol agents interviewed Medvid through an INS interpreter before returning him to the ship late Thursday.
"The interpreter was asked several times, 'Is he asking for asylum in the U.S.?' And each time the answer was 'No,' " Austin said. Austin acknowledged that Medvid "didn't want to return to the ship, but we get a lot of sailors who don't want to return to their ships, and that's not license to stay in the United States."
Austin added, "In light of his actions on the way back to the ship, we're not sure he totally understood what he was being asked."
Austin said the INS is investigating to determine whether the incident had been properly handled by the Border Patrol.