China res­cuers pull out more bod­ies; over 360 still miss­ing

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY CHRISTO­PHER BODEEN

Res­cuers cut three holes into the over­turned hull of a river cruise ship in un­suc­cess­ful at­tempts to find more sur­vivors Thurs­day, as the death toll in the Yangtze River dis­as­ter reached 77. More than 360 peo­ple re­main miss­ing and are feared dead.

Work­ers sta­bi­lized the ship with cranes and then cut into sec­tions of the hull, which jut­ted above the river’s gray cur­rents, to check for sur­vivors be­fore weld­ing the sec­tions back to the hull to pre­serve the ship’s buoy­ancy and bal­ance, Chi­nese state broad­caster CCTV said.

Many of the more than 450 peo­ple on board the multi-decked, 251-foot (77-me­ter) -long Eastern Star were re­ported to be re­tirees tak­ing in the scenic vis­tas of the Yangtze on a cruise from Nan­jing to the south­west­ern city of Chongqing.

So far, au­thor­i­ties say at least 14 peo­ple sur­vived Mon­day night’s sud­den cap­siz­ing in a se­vere storm, some by jump­ing from the ship dur­ing the early mo­ments and swim­ming or drift­ing ashore. Three of them were pulled by divers from air pock­ets in­side the over­turned hull Tues­day af­ter res­cuers heard yells for help com­ing from in­side.

Although chances of find­ing any­one else alive have all but dis­ap­peared, Chi­nese of­fi­cials have not yet de­clared the search over.

More than 200 divers were work­ing un­der­wa­ter in three shifts to search the ship’s cab­ins one by one, the broad­caster said. Res­cuers pulled out 51 bod­ies Thurs­day, bring­ing the toll to 77, CCTV said. They were brought to Jianli’s Rongcheng Cre­ma­to­rium, in Hubei prov­ince, where rel­a­tives tried to iden­tify them.

Among the crowd

ob­serv­ing de­vel­op­ments out­side the cre­ma­to­rium was farmer Wang Xun, who noted that many of the boat’s pas­sen­gers were el­derly.

“I can’t imag­ine how ter­ri­fy­ing it must have been for them,” Wang said. “Old peo­ple should be with their fam­i­lies and go peace­fully, not like this.”

Lift­ing Up­right

Af­ter fo­cus­ing dur­ing the first 72 hours af­ter the ac­ci­dent on search­ing for sur­vivors, the re­sponse team planned to bring the ship back up­right to search its cab­ins more ef­fi­ciently for the miss­ing, the of­fi­cial Xin­hua News Agency said. That could speed the pace of find­ing ad­di­tional bod­ies.

The cap­size of the Eastern Star will likely be­come the coun­try’s dead­li­est boat dis­as­ter in seven decades, and Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties have launched a high-pro­file re­sponse that has in­cluded send­ing Pre­mier Li Ke­qiang to the ac­ci­dent site, while tightly con­trol­ling me­dia cov­er­age.

The Com­mu­nist Party’s Poliburo Stand­ing Com­mit­tee, the coun­try’s high­est power, con­vened a meet­ing and is­sued a di­rec­tive for of­fi­cials to step up ef­forts to con­trol public opin­ion about the dis­as­ter re­sponse, while order­ing them to both “un­der­stand the sor­row of the fam­i­lies” and “con­cretely pre­serve so­cial sta­bil­ity.”

The sur­vivors in­cluded the ship’s cap­tain and chief en­gi­neer, both of whom have been taken into po­lice cus­tody. Some rel­a­tives have ques­tioned whether the cap­tain should have brought the ship ashore at the first signs of a storm, and whether ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble was done to en­sure the safety of the pas­sen­gers af­ter the ac­ci­dent. They have de­manded help from of­fi­cials in Nan­jing and Shang­hai to travel to the site in un­ruly scenes that have drawn a heavy po­lice re­sponse.

Records from a mar­itime agency show the cap­sized ship was cited for safety vi­o­la­tions two years ago. Au­thor­i­ties in Nan­jing held the ship and five other Yangtze cruise ves­sels af­ter it found them vi­o­lat­ing stan­dards dur­ing a safety in­spec­tion cam­paign in 2013, ac­cord­ing to a re­port on the city’s Mar­itime Safety web­site. It didn’t spec­ify the Eastern Star’s vi­o­la­tions.

The shal­low-draft boat, which was not de­signed to with­stand winds as heavy as an ocean-go­ing ves­sel can, over­turned in what Chi­nese weather au­thor­i­ties have called a cy­clone with winds up to 130 kilo­me­ters (80 miles) per hour. The sud­den cap­siz­ing meant many pas­sen­gers were un­able to grab life jack­ets, Zhong Shoudao, pres­i­dent of the Chongqing Boat De­sign In­sti­tute, said at a news con­fer­ence Wed­nes­day.

Ac­cess to the ac­ci­dent site was blocked by po­lice and para­mil­i­tary troops sta­tioned along the Yangtze em­bank­ment.

China’s dead­li­est mar­itime dis­as­ter in re­cent decades was when the Dashun ferry caught fire and cap­sized off Shan­dong prov­ince in Novem­ber 1999, killing about 280.

The Eastern Star dis­as­ter could be­come China’s dead­li­est boat ac­ci­dent since the sink­ing of the SS Kiangya off Shang­hai in 1948, which is be­lieved to have killed any­where from 2,750 to nearly 4,000 peo­ple.

AP

1. Lo­cals and rel­a­tives of pas­sen­gers on­board the cap­sized cruise ship pray dur­ing a can­dle­light vigil in Jianli county, in south­ern China’s Hubei prov­ince, Thurs­day June 4. 2. In this Wed­nes­day, June 3 photo re­leased by China’s Xin­hua News Agency, res­cue work­ers cut into the hull of the over­turned cruise ship in the Jianli sec­tion of the Yangtze River in cen­tral China’s Hubei prov­ince. 3. Rel­a­tives of pas­sen­gers on­board the cap­sized cruise ship com­fort each other dur­ing a can­dle­light vigil in Jianli county in south­ern China’s Hubei prov­ince on Thurs­day.

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