BEIJING, February 19 - China has called on Russia to investigate a shipping incident that left seven Chinese crewmen missing, officials said Thursday, amid reports the Russian navy fired on the cargo ship.
"The Chinese consulate in Russia has already raised representations with the Russian Embassy in China... and called on the Russian side... to quickly begin an investigation into the causes of the incident," a foreign ministry statement said.
A similar statement posted on the website of the Chinese consulate in Khabarovsk said a Russian search operation for the sailors who went missing Sunday was ongoing, but officials expressed doubts of finding them alive.
On Wednesday, China's official Global Times, citing a Russian newspaper, reported that the vessel had been fired upon by the Russian navy before sinking.
The Sierre Leone-flagged, China-owned New Star had earlier departed without permission from the Russian port of Nakhodka where it had been sequestered for alleged smuggling, it said.
The war ship fired over 500 rounds to try to force the cargo ship back to port when 16 crew members abandoned the vessel in stormy weather, it said.
"The Russian border guards followed the New Star for over 15 hours. They used all kinds of warnings including sound, light and radio signals," a Russian border official said on Hong Kong's Cable Television.
"They had also made a gun signal, which was ignored. So they had to open fire at the vessel. It violated not only Russian but international maritime code."