China summons Russian officials over sinking of cargo ship (Lead)

February 20th, 2009 - 8:53 pm ICT by IANS  

Beijing, Feb 20 (DPA) China’s foreign ministry Friday said it had summoned Russian officials to express its dissatisfaction over the handling of an incident in which a Chinese cargo ship sank after coming under fire from a Russian coastguard vessel.
Deputy Foreign Ministry Li Hui summoned the Russian ambassador Thursday, saying China was “shocked” by the incident, the ministry said.

Li accused Russia of failing to mount a timely rescue of sailors from the sinking ship and of not sharing the results of its investigation into the incident.

“The Chinese side cannot accept this and expresses its strong dissatisfaction,” Li was quoted as telling the Russian ambassador.

Eight crew are missing and feared dead after Russian vessels fired at the Chinese ship as it was fleeing port after a dispute over a rice cargo, Chinese and Russian reports said.

China’s foreign ministry said seven Chinese citizens were missing after the cargo ship New Star sank Saturday off Russia’s eastern port of Nakhodka in waters close to Japan.

The eighth missing crew member was apparently an Indonesian national, while eight other Chinese and Indonesian citizens were rescued.

The Hong Kong-based owner of the ship Thursday accused Russian officials of covering up an “act of murder” by a warship.

China was further angered by a Russian foreign ministry spokesperson’s comment Friday that the captain of the Chinese ship was to blame for the sinking.

A second foreign ministry official summoned another Russian diplomat Friday to protest against the Russian spokesperson’s “unacceptable” position, the Chinese ministry said.

The Chinese officials repeated China’s demand for Russia to “spare no effort in searching for the missing crew members, and investigating and finding the cause of the incident”, it said.

The Hong Kong-based J-Rui Lucky Shipping Company also disputed the Russian account of the incident.

“Their account does not mention the fact that their warship fired on our cargo ship,” the Chinese government website china.org quoted a statement by J-Rui as saying.

“What they are portraying as a rescue was in fact an act of murder,” the statement said.

Chinese and Russian media reports said the Russian Coast Guard opened fire after the ship ignored warnings to return to port.

China’s Global Times newspaper said at least one sailor was shot dead before the ship sank.

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