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19 Feb, 2009 21:17

Captain blamed for ship's sinking

The irresponsible behaviour of the captain of a Chinese cargo vessel caused the death of eight people, according to Russia’s Foreign Ministry.

The New Star cargo vessel was fleeing a port in the Far East of the country after it had illegally crossed into Russia’s territorial waters.

The Russian coast guard opened fire while trying to detain the vessel, but it refused to stop. The ship was damaged as a result and later sank in a storm, in the Sea of Japan 80 kilometers (50 miles) from the port of Nakhodka in Russia's Primorye territory. Only eight people of the sixteen crew were saved.

“We regret the tragic consequences of this incident. However, we consider the captain of the New Star, who behaved extremely irresponsibly, is fully to blame for the incident,” Andrey Nesterenko, a spokesman for the ministry, said.

Chinese media reported earlier that the Sierra Leone-flagged New Star sank as a result of damage sustained, when the ship was fired upon by Russian border guards after the vessel left Nakhodka and crossed the Russian border without prior permission from the authorities.

“We stress that the New Star violated Russia’s state border and for several hours the captain rudely ignored signals from the coast guard vessels and failed to comply with the lawful requests of the coast guard authorities,” Nesterenko said.

A full investigation is currently underway, he added.

The border guards fired warning shots, but when the vessel still refused to stop, more direct shots were fired.

According to video footage shown on the Internet in Vladivostok, Russian border guards fired a total of 515 shots at the vessel’s bow. When this had no effect, they requested permission to open fire on the stern.

The ship issued a distress signal when the vessel started to take on water during the storm on Sunday, and the sixteen Indonesian and Chinese crew members, got into two lifeboats. Half of them were picked up by a Russian vessel, but an attempt to save the other eight sailors failed.

A small boat was discovered on Tuesday in the area where the ship sunk, but there was no one on board. The search operation launched by Russia continued on Thursday.