Four days ago, it was widely reported on the front page of almost every Chinese newspaper that Russian warships had sunk a Chinese cargo ship – New Star – off the coast of Vladivostok. According to an article from the People’s Daily,
Seven Chinese sailors are missing after a Chinese cargo ship sank in Russian waters near Japan on Saturday, the Foreign Ministry said Wednesday.
“Three of the 10 Chinese sailors onboard were saved but seven are still missing after the ship sank off the waters of Vladivostok,” it said in a statement on its website.
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 Chinese language newspaper based in Beijing, said yesterday the ship was fired on by the Russian navy before it sank, citing a Russian newspaper.
New Star, 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 6 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 center of Vladivostok announced on Sunday that a Russian coast guard cruiser saved eight foreign sailors trapped by bad weather. It did not mention the alleged fire from the Russian navy.
The Russian News Agency reported the incident yesterday and said the coast guard just found an empty boat in a three-day search. It also cited bad weather as the reason behind the accident.
According the International Maritime Organization, the owner of New Star is a shipping company of Zhejiang, while the operator is a company based in Guangzhou.
Investigation of the incident is ongoing.
Beijing has since lodged formal diplomatic complaints with Moscow. According to this report from the Wall Street Journal,
China lodged a formal protest with Russia on Friday after a Russian warship fired on a Chinese cargo vessel, in an escalating dispute between the two giant neighbors.
China’s official Xinhua news agency said the warship sank the vessel in Russian waters last Sunday off the port of Vladivostok. Seven Chinese crew members are still missing, while three sailors were rescued.
Russian media say the ship, named New Star, was being pursued by Russian border guards and sank in a storm after the shooting.
On Friday, Russian news agency Interfax quoted the Russian foreign ministry as saying that the captain of the Chinese ship was to blame for violating border laws and refusing to stop when warning shots were fired.
“We regret the tragic consequences of these events. However, we lay the whole responsibility for what happened on the New Star captain, who acted extremely irresponsibly,” Interfax quoted ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko as saying.
But China has grown increasingly angry at what it believes is an inadequate attempt by Russia to find the missing sailors, and its failure to provide an explanation for why the Russian warship opened fire on the Sierra Leone-flagged vessel.
The Chinese foreign ministry on Friday lodged a formal protest with Russia’s minister counselor to China, Morgulov Igor. Chinese foreign ministry official Zhang Xiyun told the Russian envoy that the attitude of the Russian foreign ministry is “hard to understand and unacceptable,” according to Xinhua.
On Thursday, Chinese deputy foreign minister Li Hui summoned Russia’s ambassador to China, Sergei Razov, and said China was “shocked at and seriously concerned,” Xinhua said. Interfax said the New Star, carrying a crew of 16 sailors from China and Indonesia, was fleeing border guards in the Sea of Japan when the shooting occurred. The guards were pursuing the ship because it had left the port of Nakhodka without notifying authorities, it said.
A somewhat disturbing video of the crew of a Russian vessel attacking the Chinese ship can be found on youtube:
Obviously, emotions on both sides are running high.
On one hand, the Russians suspect piracy and seem to believe they were justified in doing what they did, having allegedly given plenty of warnings – all of which were ignored – to the New Star.
On the other hand, what could have prompted the Russians to sink an entire cargo ship???
Wouldn’t there be less lethal ways for disabling unarmed cargo ships like this?
Could the Russians have tried harder to save lives?
Is there much more to the story than we know?