Simas Kudirka—from Lithuania, at the time part of the Soviet Union—was a radio operator on board the Sovetskaya Litva (meaning Soviet Lithuania), a mother ship of the Soviet fishing fleet. In connection with a conference between Soviet officials and fishing industry leaders in New Bedford, Massachusetts, the Sovetskaya Litva came alongside the cutter USCGC Vigilant (WMEC-617) on 23 November 1970, a mile off Martha's Vineyard.
At about 1400 that afternoon, Kudirka told the Vigilant's operations boss that he wished to defect and later leaped from his ship to the Vigilant in an effort to do just that. The Soviets learned of this and demanded his return, concocting an obvious cock-and-bull story that he had stolen money from the ship's safe.
This presented an enormous problem. Accepting a defector under these circumstances could have had a severely corrosive effect not just on the fishery negotiations, but also on overall U.S. Cold War relations with the Soviet Union.