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Feb 22

The Sinking of New Star

Written by Allen on Sunday, February 22nd, 2009 at 4:35 am
Filed under:Analysis, General, News, politics, video | Tags:, , ,
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New Star sinking near Russias far-eastern port of Vladivostok. Three Chinese crew members were rescued and 7 others were missing, according to Chinese Foreign Ministry.

New Star sinking near Russia's far-eastern port of Vladivostok. Three Chinese crew members were rescued and 7 others were missing, according to Chinese Foreign Ministry.

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?


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28 Responses to “The Sinking of New Star”

  1. Shane9219 Says:

    This is a terrible mess firstly caused by the ship’s HK based operator and captain, then the Russian coast guard.

    The ship operator was in the midst of a legal dispute with its trading peer, but ordered the ship to return.

    The captain was not professional. Being fearful, he refused to obey orders and warning from Russian coast guard. He is from Philippine. When abundoning the ship, he put himself and the rest of Philippine crew on a good raft. Those who lost in the sea are Chinese crew on a smaller raft.

    Lastly, the Russians … remember the shooting-down of a Korean airline flight some years ago …

  2. Shane9219 Says:

    Correction: apparently, the other part of crew are Indonesian, not Filipino

  3. S.K. Cheung Says:

    “Is there much more to the story than we know?” – I’d say that’s a pretty safe assumption.

    It seems that a vessel in Russian waters running away from the Russian Coast Guard/Navy can’t be purer than the driven snow.

    It also remains to be seen whether the vessel sank due to the weather conditions, or because it was damaged by the naval shelling.

    But either way, once the vessel was foundering and no longer a threat to do whatever it was deemed to have been threatening to do, the Russian vessels should have gone from pursuers to rescuers, and they do have a lot to answer for if they did in fact merely become observers.

    Hopefully, more info will be forthcoming.

    The Korean Airlines flight over the Sakalin Islands was a long time ago, but rather than fleeing detention, it had entered Soviet airspace without permission, and apparently did not land as ordered to by Soviet fighters. Some parallels to this incident, I suppose. As to whether they were “spying”, I’m not sure we’ll ever know…

  4. Wukailong Says:

    The downing of the South Korean plane has never been solved, it turns out:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korean_Air_Lines_Flight_007

    I wouldn’t be too surprised. It seems it’s the fate of any disaster or assassination to become fertile ground for conspiracy theorists. I guess New Star is no different.

  5. ecodelta Says:

    Pretty much solved to me.

    Navigational error, cold war, military “intelligence”. Do not use conspiracy to explain just plain mistakes. No matter how tragic they are.

    Even with GPS I have some pilots made navigational error because of wrong coordinates input ( and not checking where they are flying)

    I remember a ferry of a Cessna I took part with. Even with maps and VOR, due to a persistent side wind we ended 200 km away from the target. Only good visibility and knowledge of the area allowed us to correct course.

    It was a fatal mistake on both sides, but I put more responsibility on the Russian side.

    A similar chain of mistakes may have happened in Vladivostok.

    Less tensions, cool heads specially in the commanders, less over patriotic training of sailors and more cooperation on both sides is the best solution.

    There was not long ago an incident in South China where some fishermen where shot dead by Chinese coastguards too…..

  6. Charles Liu Says:

    Here’s more:

    http://www.monstersandcritics.com/news/asiapacific/news/article_1460406.php/Eight_feared_dead_after_Russia_sinks_Chinese_cargo_ship__2nd_Roundup__

    Still not clear, suppoedly there was a dispute over a cargo of rice.

  7. Hemulen Says:

    What is there to discuss, really? I’m mean isn’t China always right anyway? If the shoe was on the other foot, I’m sure people would be outraged, but for different reasons.

  8. Leo Says:

    @ Hemulen 7,

    What’s your point? Are you disappointed?

  9. kaneL Says:

    Three patrol boats can obviously chase down a large commercial ship fairly easily. The fact that the Russian authority chose the extreme measure, to sink the Chinese ship, should dispel any doubts about what really happened there.

    In the world of international politics, country does need comprehensive power to be taken seriously. China, though much stronger than 30 years ago, still has ways to go. Obviously, the Russians will not give a damn to anyone other than, maybe, the U.S.

  10. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To KaneL:
    “The fact that the Russian authority chose the extreme measure, to sink the Chinese ship, should dispel any doubts about what really happened there.” – is that really “the fact” though? Did the Russians sink the ship, or did the ship sink while running away from the Russians? And since it was in Russian waters, even if the Russians did sink the boat, can anyone know for sure at this point if they had ample justification? I’d say there’s still plenty of doubt to go around.

    Besides, the Chinese nation is not being victimized here, and there’s really no need to hit the “China needs to get 10X stronger so she won’t be bullied anymore” button. I don’t think the Russian navy would go around sinking ships willy-nilly, be they Chinese, American, or Sri Lankan (for example).

  11. Mike Says:

    Shooting up a ship because of a trade dispute, regardless of who’s right or wrong is ridiculous. The Russians could easily, and likely successfully, sued the operator in Hong Kong; HK has one of the most transparent, fair legal systems there is. Now the Russians just look like a bunch of idiots, shooting up the one kind of ship their rusting Vladivostok fleet has a chance against, an unarmed ship carrying rice.

  12. Steve Says:

    I think it’s still too early to know what really happened. Very few details have been released. For instance, I read that 500 rounds had been fired into the cargo ship. 500 rounds of what? If it’s machine gun fire, that’s just a few seconds. If the ship was shelled with cannon fire, that’s a completely different story.

    I would assume if a ship was being held in a Chinese port and then tried to flee, the Chinese navy would also run it down. Fleeing the port was highly irresponsible on the part of the cargo ship’s owner. If what I’ve read is true and the cargo ship was ordered by its owner to flee, said owner should be brought up on charges. When you’re in a foreign country, you’re subject to their laws and regulations. When I lived in China, I was always very conscious that I was a guest in the country and very careful about my behavior. You can’t expect foreign governments to behave the same as your own.

    However, sinking a ship seems like an overreaction. I’d be surprised if there isn’t video footage of the incident somewhere, since military vessels document their actions. The usual course is to fire ahead of the bow as a warning. If the warning is unheeded, then the fire will be directed at the ship itself. That’s been the procedure when dealing with Somali pirates, as an example. Machine gun fire isn’t going to sink a ship, so if that’s what happened then it probably sank for other reasons. If cannon fire was used and hit below the water line, then it’s logical to assume the Russian navy sunk the cargo vessel.

    We know the cargo ship was guilty of illegally fleeing the port, but we don’t know the extent of the Russian reaction, just that the ship was sunk and lives lost. I think we should wait until we know more before we come to a conclusion.

  13. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To Steve:
    “I would assume if a ship was being held in a Chinese port and then tried to flee, the Chinese navy would also run it down. Fleeing the port was highly irresponsible on the part of the cargo ship’s owner.” – Exactly!

    “I think we should wait until we know more before we come to a conclusion.” – again, exactly! But it seems people prefer to jump to conclusions around here.

  14. Steve Says:

    @ Allen: Thanks for the clip. The Russians did the “shot across the bow” and the verbal order to stop, so after that the cargo ship is pretty much at the mercy of the Russian fleet. The actual attack by the Russian ships isn’t shown but it’s obvious that there is video of it in the Russian archives. Hopefully that will be released and we can find out what really happened. The ship’s captain may have been counting on the high winds to keep the Russians from preventing his escape. With conditions that choppy, I can’t think of any other options the Russians had except shelling or ramming, and ramming would have put Russian lives at risk. Boarding was out of the question.

    But I have to say that the captain was a fool not to stop. When you have two warships on either side of you and they fire that shot across your bow, you immediately stop and it was obvious the cargo ship kept going at full speed. I just feel for the crew members who died. They didn’t have any responsibility for their deaths, they were just maritime sailors trying to make a living.

  15. miaka9383 Says:

    So here is what I learened from reading Chinese bloggers and reading the news..

    1. The ship was not technically a Chinese ship since it was not registered in China (I don’t know how common this happens but if the captain being Chinese classify this ship as a Chinese merchant ship, then ok…..)
    2. Majority of the crew are not chinese… they are either Filipino/Indonesian/Malay (pending investigation)
    3. This was a trade dispute over Rice(Grain). It is said that when the merchant docked, the receiver of the product points out that the rice was bad and had bugs in it. They refused the product and refuse to give the money. So they take it to court. The ship left while this trade dispute was still processing because either the Captain or the Merchant was impatient and told the ship to start sailing. (Isn’t this against trade laws?)
    4. Russian fired off warning shots before attacking the merchant ship. It is said that they have been chasing the ship for about an hour. (Is excessive force justified here?)

    I have a personal question to ask… if the Chinese Government cares so much about their citizens, being that they are Chinese (Huaren), why did they not react when Huaren were attacked in Malaysia during their riot?
    And I question the intention of the Chinese Government reacting to this news.
    Did Chinese government overreact in this case for show or are they sincere in caring about its merchants?

  16. William Huang Says:

    @ miaka9383 #15
    “The ship was not technically a Chinese ship since it was not registered in China (I don’t know how common this happens but if the captain being Chinese classify this ship as a Chinese merchant ship, then ok…..)”

    It’s common practice for international cargo shipping industry that ships are registered at certain countries for various reasons. For example, many shipping companies register their ship at Panama. I am not claiming that I know who actually has the ultimate ownership of the ship but I won’t be surprised that a Chinese owned cargo ship is registered in, say, Panama.

    “I have a personal question to ask… if the Chinese Government cares so much about their citizens, being that they are Chinese (Huaren), why did they not react when Huaren were attacked in Malaysia during their riot?
    And I question the intention of the Chinese Government reacting to this news.
    Did Chinese government overreact in this case for show or are they sincere in caring about its merchants?”

    There is a difference here. The riot in Malaysia was not organized by the Malaysian government so it’s hard for Chinese government to pin point the culprit. The Russian navy, on the other hand, is under direct control of Russian government so Chinese government could protest to Russian government.

    As for their sincerity, if you don’t like them, there is nothing they can do to please you.

  17. Allen Says:

    @miaka9383 #15,

    The New Star is a Sierra Leone-flagged ship – owned by Hong Kong-registered J-Rui Lucky Shipping Co Ltd.

    As for your question about Chinese interest in Malaysian riots (or Indonesian riots or Vietnamese riots) … we should distinguish between people of Chinese citizenship and people of Chinese ethnicity.

    The riots against ethnic Chinese throughout SE Asia in the latter 20th century were not against Chinese citizens – only against Malaysian nationals of Chinese descents (or Indonesian nationals of Chinese descent, or Vietnamese nationals of Chinese descent). They were hence of no direct interest to the modern Chinese state.

    The sinking of the New Star is different because it involved the destruction of the properties of Chinese nationals / corporations – and hence became direct and legitimate interests of the Chinese state.

  18. Fred Says:

    Isn’t humanity just great!!! What a wonderful time to be alive in the world. We all need to be proud??

  19. jois Says:

    Wow great information. I never see.

  20. Mikhail Says:

    The crew members are the victims of the greed and incompetence of the Chinese owners, merchants and the ship’s captain. They delivered inferior merchandise then tried to flee and evade their responsibility when the Russian buyer realised they were being ripped off. They ignored the instructions of Russian border security authorities and then when their ship was immobilised they panicked and took to the seas in poorly maintained liferafts. Venality, cowardice and incompetence.

  21. CLee Says:

    Mikhail:

    The Russians are cowards! Your navy at Vladivostok is rusting in hell. Which other navy in the world shoots unarmed merchant ship because of a commercial dispute on a cargo of rice? Why not sue them in court? Why not rescue the ship’s crew since it was in broad daylight that the sinking ship was filmed showing that there would have been no problem rescuing the ship’s crew if that was the intention? Why was your security ministry so spineless in authorizing the shooting in the first place? Blame all you want on the ship’s captain for trying to flee, but there can be no excuse for first shooting at an unarmed ship and second for not doing your best to save the lives of the sailors. Damn you Russians!

  22. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To CLee:
    “for not doing your best to save the lives of the sailors.” – it certainly appears that the Russians have to answer for this, based on the info thus far.

    “Blame all you want on the ship’s captain for trying to flee, but there can be no excuse for first shooting at an unarmed ship” – if police are chasing a suspect who is fleeing the scene of the crime, and the police yell “freeze” but the suspect keeps running, and in the process of apprehending the suspect, the suspect is injured or killed, where does the blame go? Sure, the Russians have lots to answer for. But, based on what little info we have, I think the first person you should grill is the ship’s captain, or perhaps the ship’s owner.

  23. Wukailong Says:

    I hate to do meta-comments, but it sure is funny to have a flamewar between Russian and Chinese nationalists.

  24. Steve Says:

    @ SKC #22: Hmm… let’s figure this out. Cargo ship entered Russian territorial waters and is now under Russian law. Cargo ship holds contaminated rice, so Russian authorities order ship to remain in port while the investigation is taking place. Cargo ship owner orders captain to break Russian law and flee. Russian warships, in Russian territorial waters and still under Russian law, order cargo ship to turn back and fire across its bow. Cargo ship ignores order and continues to flee at full speed in rough conditions. Russian ships fire upon cargo ship, ship sinks and many members of the crew die in the open sea because of poorly maintained life rafts and alleged failure of Russian Navy to rescue them in a timely manner.

    Chinese response: “You should have allowed the ship to leave and sued them in Hong Kong courts.
    Russian response: “They broke Russian laws in Russian territory so it should be handled in Russia.

    Chinese response: “By shooting at innocent sailors, you violated their human rights.”
    Russian response: “We have our own definition of human rights.”

    Chinese response: “You didn’t try hard enough to save the sailors.”
    Russian response: “We saved seven but the others died because their life rafts were inferior.”

    Chineser response: “Why would you sink an entire cargo ship for a violation of law?”
    Russian response: “Because our laws say we can.”

    Chinese response: “Then you should change your laws.”
    Russian response: “Why do you tell everyone else not to interfere in your internal affairs and then try to interfere in our internal affairs?”

  25. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To Steve:
    that’s a good one. It would be hilarious if such an exchange actually took place. And I think the last comment would be the funniest of all.

    This was a violation of Russian law in Russian territory, and they had every right to resolve it on their soil, or water, as the case may be. However, you brought up a good point about HK courts. If the HK owners did order to captain to leave in defiance of Russian jurisdiction, then maybe China should sue the HK owners for putting the ship and sailors in harm’s way.

  26. Steve Says:

    @ SKC: The point I was trying to make is that people and countries need to be consistent in their arguments. It’s ok to expect Russia to act a certain way according to international protocol, but then you have to apply those same rules to China and other countries. You can’t have it both ways.

    You (SKC) can personally slam Russia because you are a universal slammer, so it’s consistent with your other positions. But if someone wants to say that China cannot be slammed for the reasons I pointed out, then those same people shouldn’t slam Russia. I think all countries can be slammed within reason, but too often people look through a one way mirror and accuse someone for doing exactly what they themselves are doing. I want to see a consistency in the position someone takes. You can’t have position A when it affects your country and position B when it affects another, and that goes for ALL countries. As an example, the Bush administration pushed China to change its economic policies while allowing Wall Street to go completely unregulated and create disaster. The narrower you define international protocol and act independently, the less room you yourself have to maneuver when things don’t go your way.

  27. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To Steve:
    “You can’t have it both ways. ” – truer words have seldom been said. I hope to live by that rule, and sometimes wish others would start too…

    As you suggest, if this was a Russian cargo ship in Chinese waters in the reverse scenario, I wonder what many people around here would say. My suspicion is that they’d want to have it both ways.

  28. Ziggy Says:

    How typical of the Chinese responses.

    For years, the Chinese Navy has arrogantly sunk, shot and killed numerous Vietnamese sailors and fishing boats off Viet Nam’s territorial waters without explanation. Now, they are angry about Russians doing their job by trying to stop Chinese smugglers in their territorial waters.

    Someone is crying wolf…Go figure!

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