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    Moscow blames captain of China's New Star for tragic sinking

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    The captain of a Chinese cargo ship, which sank off Russia's Pacific Coast on Sunday killing eight crewmembers, is to blame for the tragedy, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Thursday.

    MOSCOW, February 19 (RIA Novosti) - The captain of a Chinese cargo ship, which sank off Russia's Pacific Coast on Sunday killing eight crewmembers, is to blame for the tragedy, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Thursday.

    The New Star, 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. The ship had earlier been chased by two Russian coast guard vessels, but refused to stop despite being fired on.

    "We regret the tragic consequences of this incident. However we consider the captain of the New Star, who behaved extremely irresponsibly, is fully to blame for the incident," Andrei Nesterenko, a spokesman for the ministry, said.

    Chinese media reported earlier that the Sierra Leone-flagged New Star sank as a result of damage sustained, when the ship was fired upon by Russian border guards after the vessel left Nakhodka and crossed the Russian border without prior permission from the authorities.

    "We stress that the New Star violated Russia's state border and for several hours the captain rudely ignored signals from the coast guard vessels and failed to comply with the lawful requests of the coast guard authorities," Nesterenko said.

    The Russian diplomat added that a full investigation, conducted by the relevant Russian bodies, is currently underway.

    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 this had no effect, they requested 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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