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Ship owner: 'Russians fired on us'
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A photo shows the sinking Chinese cargo ship New Star. [Sina.com.cn] 

By Keen Zhang

Owners of the Chinese cargo vessel New Star that sunk on Saturday in Russian waters today issued a statement claiming the ship had been fired on by the Russian navy.
 Watch the Russian navy 'fire' on a cargo ship

Previous reports had suggested the Sierre Leone-flagged, China-owned cargo vessel was engaged in smuggling and had been confronted by a Russian patrol.

"The New Star had never been involved in smuggling. The story the Russia authorities fed to the press is a cover-up that turns black into white. Their account does not mention the fact that their warship fired on our cargo ship. What they are portraying as a rescue was in fact an act of murder," said the Hong Kong-based J-Rui Lucky Shipping Company in a written statement.

The company demanded the Chinese and Russian governments carry out a joint investigation into the affair.

The J-Rui statement said it had leased the New Star to the Tongyu Shipping Company of Zhejiang Province in 2006.

According to J-Rui the New Star delivered 4,978 tons of rice from Thailand to the Russian port of Nakhodka on January 29, 2009. But the Russian buyer refused to accept the rice because of quality concerns, suspended the unloading, and asked for damages of US$330,000. The New Star was detained at the port for several days, but on February 11 the unloading process restarted and completed later the same day.

J-Rui claims that the Russian agent did not cooperate in helping the New Star complete departure procedures. After a number of unsuccessful attempts to obtain customs clearance, the Tongyu Shipping Company instructed the captain to set sail on the evening of February 12.

On February 13, according to the J-Rui account, the Russian authorities sent coastal guard vessels to pursue the New Star, on the grounds that it had not received permission to leave port. J-Rui says a survivor account describes how a Russian warship fired on the cargo ship "for several hours" using artillery and heavy machine guns, severely damaging its hull.

The Russian patrol then ordered the New Star back to Nakhodka despite the damage and, on the way, the ship began to sink. At 3:06 AM on February 15, the captain reported the ship's condition to Tongyu and requested emergency assistance. Soon afterwards all contact with the cargo ship was lost, says J-Rui.

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