Chinese cargo ship sinks after being shot by Russian navy

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Chinese cargo ship was fired on and sunk by a Russian cruiser last Sunday near Russia's far-eastern port of Vladivostok. Eight out of 16 crew members on board were saved while the others remain missing.

According to Natalia Gelashvili, a spokeswoman for the Far East Transport Prosecutors office in Nakhodka, the cargo ship New Star fled on Feb. 12 after the shipment of rice it unloaded was rejected by the buyer, who then requested the court to seize the ship while suing for damages. But the Beijing based Global Times reported that the ship was sequestered for alleged smuggling.

Russian Federal Security Service spokeswoman Natalya Rondaleva confirmed that the ship was fired upon by Russian vessels. An unnamed source asserts that warning shots were fired before more direct shots were taken.

The ship began sinking while being escorted back to the port.

The sinking of the boat forced all 16 crew members to abandon the ship by taking two life boats. One boat carrying eight people was saved by Russian sailors while the other was engulfed in the waves. The missing crew include seven Chinese and one Indonesian. The Canadian Press reports that they are presumed to have drowned.

"The cause of the sinking isn't clear because the incident occurred during a storm," said Captain Veniamin Ivanichev of the Marine Rescue Center in Vladivostok.

China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs today said it asked Russia to investigate the "mishap" and identify the cause as soon as possible.

All the rescued crew members have gone back to Nakhodka while the Russian keep looking for the missing sailors. The Russian News Agency said the coast guard found only an empty boat in a three-day search.

China's foreign spokeswoman Jiang Yu declined to comment on the Russians' opening fire on the ship.

The ship was registered in Sierra Leone, and the owner is a shipping company based in Hong Kong.