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    China demands Russia investigate sinking of Chinese ship

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    Beijing urged Russia on Thursday to conduct a thorough probe into the sinking of a Chinese cargo ship off Russia's Pacific Coast over the weekend, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said.

    BEIJING, February 19 (RIA Novosti) - Beijing urged Russia on Thursday to conduct a thorough probe into the sinking of a Chinese cargo ship off Russia's Pacific Coast over the weekend, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said.

    "We are demanding that Russia carry out a swift investigation into the cause of the incident," Jiang Yu said, adding that China also urged Russia to continue searching for eight crew members, including Chinese nationals, who are feared dead.

    The spokeswoman said that China had sent a written message to Russia's embassy in Beijing.

    Chinese media reported that the sinking was linked to damage sustained when the Sierra Leone-flagged New Star was fired upon by Russian border guards. An investigation into the actions of the Russian border guards has been initiated by transport prosecutors in Russia's Far East.

    The cargo ship, owned by a Hong Kong based company, sank in the Sea of Japan 80 kilometers (50 miles) from the port of Nakhodka in the Primorye Territory during a storm on Sunday.

    The tragedy occurred after the ship left the Russian port having tried to deliver a consignment of rice to a Russian company that refused to accept the "poor-quality" goods and threatened to take legal action and have the vessel seized.

    Russian media reports said New Star's owners ordered the captain to leave Nakhodka, and on February 12 the vessel crossed the Russian border without prior permission from the Russian authorities.

    Two Russian border guard ships were sent to stop the vessel, but the captain ignored their orders. The border guards fired warning shots but when the vessel still refused to stop more direct shots were fired.

    According to video footage shown by Internet media in Vladivostok, Russian border guards fired a total of 515 shots at the vessel's bow. When the shooting had no effect, they asked for 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 16 crew members, all of them Indonesian or Chinese nationals, got into two lifeboats. Half of them were picked up by a Russian vessel, but an attempt to save the other eight sailors failed when they were washed out to sea.

    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.

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