Eight die as HK-owned ship sinks off Russia

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 February, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 February, 2009, 12:00am

A ship owned by a Hong Kong-based company sank during a storm off Russia's Pacific coast, a Russian news agency reported yesterday.

The report said eight crew on board died in the incident - all of them Chinese and Indonesian nationals.

The Foreign Ministry confirmed the New Star sank in the area and said seven Chinese crew were lost and feared dead. Three Chinese sailors were rescued.

The incident took place in the Sea of Japan 80km from the port of Nakhodka in the Primorye territory, RIA Novosti reported.

The Foreign Ministry said it had contacted the Russian embassy in Beijing and demanded that Moscow carry out rescue searches and investigate the cause of the tragedy.

Russian prosecutors told the news agency that the captain of the ship had ignored Russian coastguards' warnings and tried to sail out of Russian territorial waters to escape prosecution.

Two Russian coastguard ships were sent to stop the vessel, but the captain ignored the warning signals, the report said.

'Border guards fired warning shots but even after that the vessel failed to stop. After that, more direct shots were fired,' it said, citing an unnamed source. The report said the ship later issued a distress signal as it started to take on water. Sixteen crew members were forced to take to two life rafts.

The report said half of them were picked up by a Russian vessel while an attempt to save the other eight sailors failed when they were washed out to sea.

The cargo ship, flying under the Sierra Leone flag, was delivering a consignment of rice to a Russian company. But the Russian firm refused to accept the cargo on the grounds of its poor quality.

The Russian company also threatened to take legal action against the Hong Kong-based shipping firm and have the vessel seized, the report said.

The Hong Kong ship owner ordered the captain to leave the Russian port, without obtaining permission from the Russian authorities.

It is not clear if the captain was among the three Chinese sailors rescued or if the survivors would be prosecuted by Russia. But the report said officials had begun an investigation into the Russian coastguard vessels and the information would be sent to military prosecutors.