Who’s responsible for sunken cargo ship?
----combined context and International Law analysis
A few days ago I posted a thread about the disputable event that Russian cruiser fired on and sunk Chinese cargo ship (actually it’s not exactly
Chinese ship). I made some immature opinion because I didn’t check detail of the event. Thank Mengzhi, Satsu_jin, Seneca and others for providing
their information and opinions.
I combined all information I’ve got and views of some experts on international law, including United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, to
contribute an analysis here. Welcome your discussion and disputes.
1. in port
New Star cargo ship was detained by Russia for unqualified rice it carried, and Russia wanted the ship as compensation. The dispute remained in a
category of business dissention until caption of New Star ordered to set off without permission of Russian Custom. The move can be considered as
violation to Russia’s law. It seems the original sin was made by caption.
It is stupid and wrong for a caption to make trouble with Russian navy. He was betting with lives of all crews that Russians dare not fire. After the
event the caption said it was the owner of ship ordered him to leave by phone.
2. Identity of ship
Nationality of a ship is determined by its registration. New Star should be considered as a Sierra Leone ship because it was registered in Sierra
Leone and the ship hung Sierra Leone’s national flag, though its owner is a company in HongKong.
So China hasn’t jurisdiction on the ship unless Chinese crews on it involved in legal issue, which means before Russian cruiser fired on the ship it
was no business of China. It’s OK for New Star to register abroad to enjoy lower tax. It’s also logical for Russia to say they didn’t know the
ship is of China, a strategic cooperation friend.
3. hot pursuit
Some Chinese experts are wrong here protesting Russian cruiser had no right of hot pursuit in high sea. Actually it has the right because the pursuit
started in Russia’s territorial sea and was not interrupted, and the ship for sure had violated rule of Russian Custom. (As Russian media reported,
the ship was convicted of leaving port without permission, neglecting order to pull back, and illegally cross Russian territory water. I assumed that
all saying from Russia is true, which means my analysis is substantially favorable for Russia.)
An official of Russia said the cruiser had repeatedly asked New Star to stop through radio communication, flares, flag signals and warning shots over
the ship, but the ship didn’t stop or slow down. Till now Russia did nothing wrong, according to information provided by Russian media.
According to international practice, Russian cruiser should adopt nonviolent method to hold up a business cargo ship unless New Star threatened its
safety. Apparently it’s impossible for a cargo ship to threaten a war ship. Especially in bad weather, it mustn’t shot the ship to sink.
And out of humanitarianism in emergency, war ship should immediately rescue business ship no matter what. Russian navy excused they tried to rescue
but it was hard to aid in bad weather. Since they knew the weather was bad they should not have damaged the ship badly. (Though as Russian official
said the aim of 500 shots were the bow and stern of the vessel where are not fatal, it’s too severe for a business ship.)
So the saying from Russia that bad weather instead of shots sunk the ship is inconsistent and unjustifiable.
To sum up, in a perspective favorable for Russia, I think Russian Custom and Navy did their just duty except for executing excessively to fire on New
Star ship and nonfeasance in rescue. The unhappy episode should not affect development of China-Russian cooperation. The reaction of China Ministry of
Foreign Affairs is experienced and appropriate.
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