Search on for missing Chinese sailors in Russian waters (Lead)

February 19th, 2009 - 6:20 pm ICT by IANS  

Beijing, Feb 19 (Xinhua) A search is on for the missing Chinese sailors in the Russian waters after their cargo vessel sank Sunday, while Moscow has also launched an investigation into the incident, the Chinese foreign ministry said Thursday.
The New Star, a cargo ship, sank Sunday in the waters near Russia’s far-eastern port of Vladivostok. Three Chinese crewmembers were rescued while seven others were missing, said Jiang Yu, foreign ministry spokeswoman.

“The foreign ministry and the Chinese consulate in Russia have raised the issue in meetings with the Russian Embassy officials in China and other departments, urging the Russian side to spare no effort to help search for the missing crewmembers and quickly find out the causes of the incident,” Jiang told at a press conference.

Chinese consulate officials in Khabarovsk and Vladivostok met the rescued sailors and offered assistance to handle the aftermath of the accident, Jiang said in response to a question.

The Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement earlier that three of the 10 Chinese sailors onboard were saved but seven are still missing after the ship sank off the waters of Vladivostok.

The ministry didn’t mention the cause of the incident, saying rescue efforts and an investigation into the incident are ongoing. But the Global Times, a Beijing-based Chinese language newspaper - citing a Russian newspaper - said Wednesday the ship was fired on by the Russian navy before it sank.

The cargo ship was sequestered at the Russian port of Nakhodka earlier this month for alleged smuggling.

It left the port not far from the Sino-Russian border without permission from Russian authorities last Thursday and was chased by a cruiser, the newspaper said.

Later, the warship shot at least 500 rounds onto the ship and forced it to sail back toward the port in force six winds.

However, the Chinese ship started to sink on the way. According to the report, in a period of almost 24 hours, Russian navy officers and soldiers onboard the cruiser watched the sinking boat and did not make any response to the cries for help from the crewmen.

In the end, 16 sailors onboard New Star got on two lifeboats. The Russian sailors managed to save one boat carrying eight people, while the other was engulfed in the waves.

Three of the missing sailors are Chinese while the other five came from Indonesia, the report said.

The coastal coordination and assistance centre of Vladivostok announced Sunday that a Russian coast guard cruiser saved eight foreign sailors trapped by bad weather. It did not mention the alleged firing from the Russian navy.

However, a Russian media report said Wednesday the coast guard found an empty boat in a three-day search. It also cited bad weather as the reason behind the accident.

According the International Maritime Organisation, the owner of New Star is a shipping company of Zhejiang, while the operator is a company based in Guangzhou.

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