Ship sinks in Yangtze, hun­dreds miss­ing

Cap­tain, chief en­gi­neer sur­vive, re­port ship was hit by cy­clone


Res­cuers pulled at least three peo­ple from the wreck­age of a cap­sized Chi­nese cruise ship Tues­day as fears mounted for the more than 400 peo­ple still miss­ing af­ter the boat sank in a storm.

Just 14 peo­ple have been con­firmed as sur­viv­ing af­ter the Dong­fangzhix­ing, or “Eastern Star,” a tourist boat rapidly over­turned late Mon­day on the Yangtze river in cen­tral China, the of­fi­cial Xin­hua News Agency re­ported.

Six bod­ies have been re­cov­ered from the wreck­age, leav­ing hun­dreds more still miss­ing, pos­si­bly trapped within the ship which ap­par­ently sank in a mat­ter of sec­onds with 458 peo­ple on board, state me­dia said.

Lo­cal re­ports said the pas­sen­gers were mostly aged over 60.

Tele­vi­sion footage showed res­cuers on top of a sec­tion of the ship’s hull that re­mained above wa­ter, some press­ing their ears against it.

“Res­cuers knocked on the ship and re­ceived re­sponses,” the Hubei Daily news­pa­per said. “Three peo­ple were found alive.”

Zhang Hui, a 43-year-old tour guide on board, de­scribed a storm roil­ing the boat, which tilted by as much as 45 de­grees just af­ter 9 p.m. lo­cal time (1300 GMT) on Mon­day, Xin­hua said.

“Rain poured down on the right side of the boat, many rooms were flooded,” Zhang said, ac­cord­ing to Xin­hua. “Even if the win­dows were shut, wa­ter leaked through.”

Pas­sen­gers be­gan tak­ing soaked quilts and TV sets into the ship’s hall around 9:20 p.m. (1320 GMT), Xin­hua quoted Zhang as say­ing, in what ap­peared to be an at­tempt to keep the items dry.

Pas­sen­gers seemed to have lit­tle warn­ing be­fore the ship sank min­utes later with Zhang re­call­ing he had “30 sec­onds to grab a life jacket.”

The cap­tain and chief en­gi­neer, who were among the few sur­vivors are be­ing ques­tioned by po­lice, both re­port­edly said it had been caught in a freak “cy­clone.”

For­eign jour­nal­ists were barred from com­ing closer than about two kilo­me­ters from the cen­ter of res­cue ef­forts, which ap­peared to be a hive of ac­tiv­ity where army per­son­nel had parked trucks and pitched tents.

As heavy rains con­tin­ued to hit the area, an AFP pho­tog­ra­pher saw more than a dozen am­bu­lances driv­ing away from the res­cue area, and at least two body bags ap­par­ently con­tain­ing dead pas­sen­gers.

CCTV said the 76.5-me­ter long ves­sel had floated three kilo­me­ters down river af­ter it cap­sized in Jianli county, part of the cen­tral prov­ince of Hubei.

Teams of po­lice worked to get small mo­tor­boats in the wa­ter to search for sur­vivors in the rain, while other emer­gency per­son­nel looked on from the shore.

Xin­hua re­ported that three divers found one 21-year-old man in a small com­part­ment Tues­day af­ter­noon, say­ing he was given div­ing ap­pa­ra­tus and able to swim out by him­self.

State broad­caster CCTV showed res­cue work­ers car­ry­ing an el­derly woman on a stretcher, adding that an­other 65-year-old woman was in “good phys­i­cal con­di­tion,” af­ter be- ing hauled from the boat.

It also showed Chi­nese Pre­mier Li Ke­qiang peer­ing through binoc­u­lars and giv­ing in­struc­tions at the scene.

A lo­cal man sur­named Wang told AFP the storm on Mon­day night was the worst he had seen in years.

‘All-out res­cue ef­forts’

Xin­hua said an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the min­istry of trans­port had determined the ship was not over­loaded and had a suf­fi­cient num­ber of life jack­ets.

There were 458 peo­ple on board the Dong­fangzhix­ing when the ship cap­sized at 9:28 p.m., CCTV said, in­clud­ing 406 Chi­nese pas­sen­gers, five travel agency work­ers and 47 crew mem­bers.

The ves­sel was owned by a firm that op­er­ates tours in the scenic Three Gorges dam re­gion, some dis­tance from the ac­ci­dent site.

The boat sent no emer­gency sig­nal and seven peo­ple from the boat swam to shore to raise the alarm af­ter it sank, ac­cord­ing to re­ports.

The ship started op­er­a­tions in 1993 and was due to be re­tired in three years, the 21st Cen­tury Busi­ness Her­ald quoted an un­named for­mer se­nior ex­ec­u­tive with the Chongqing Eastern Ship Com­pany as say­ing.

The ac­ci­dent oc­curred in the mid­dle reaches of the Yangtze, a wide and rapidly flow­ing wa­ter­way which at 6,300 kilo­me­ters is Asia’s long­est river.

Chi­nese leader Xi Jin­ping ear­lier or­dered “all-out res­cue ef­forts” to find any sur­vivors.

The Hubei Daily said about 150 boats — in­clud­ing about 100 fish­ing ves­sels — and more than 3,000 peo­ple were in­volved in the res­cue ef­fort, in­clud­ing 140 divers.

Dis­traught rel­a­tives of the pas­sen­gers gath­ered at a Shang­hai travel agency on Tues­day, sob­bing and plead­ing for in­for­ma­tion on their loved ones’ fate.

One man ex­pressed his grief with a tear­ful apol­ogy to his par­ents, who were among the hun­dreds of miss­ing.

“I still have so many things I want to tell them. I thought they would come back safe and sound,” added the man.

A 64-year-old man sur­named Zhang said he spoke to his wife on the boat Mon­day evening hours be­fore the ac­ci­dent, and she told him about poor weather and heavy rain.

“I usu­ally call her twice a day. But to­day, af­ter I heard the news ... the phone call never got through,” he said.


(Above) A sur­vivor, cen­ter, is res­cued by divers from the Dong­fangzhix­ing or “Eastern Star” ves­sel that sank in the Yangtze river in Jianli, cen­tral China’s Hubei prov­ince on Tues­day, June 2. (Right) An el­derly pas­sen­ger, cen­ter, is es­corted to the river bank af­ter be­ing res­cued from the Dong­fangzhix­ing or “Eastern Star” ves­sel, Tues­day.

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