China ship righted to speed up search for miss­ing

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY CHRISTO­PHER BODEEN

The banged-up, white-and-blue Eastern Star emerged from gray wa­ters of the Yangtze River on Fri­day as Chi­nese dis­as­ter teams raised the cap­sized ship with cranes to bet­ter search for nearly 340 peo­ple still miss­ing. So far, 103 bod­ies have been found. The fo­cus shifted from find­ing sur­vivors to re­triev­ing bod­ies trapped since the river cruise ship cap­sized sud­denly dur­ing a storm Mon­day night on the trip from Nan­jing to Chongqing.

Au­thor­i­ties have at­trib­uted the ac­ci­dent to weather, but also have placed the sur­viv­ing cap­tain and first en­gi­neer un­der po­lice cus­tody. Pas­sen­gers’ rel­a­tives have raised ques­tions about whether the ship should have con­tin­ued its cruise af­ter the storm started and de­spite a weather warn­ing ear­lier in the evening.

In a sign of po­ten­tial un­rest among the hun­dreds of rel­a­tives who have de­scended on the small Hubei prov­ince county of Jianli, one dis­traught fam­ily mem­ber burst into a gath­er­ing of jour­nal­ists to com­plain about their treat­ment and de­mand an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into pos­si­ble hu­man er­ror.

“All the em­pha­sis is on a nat­u­ral dis­as­ter ... but we think that this is un­just,” said Xia Yunchen, a 70-yearold uni­ver­sity lec­turer. “Apart from nat­u­ral dis­as­ter were there other causes? Is this not ra­tio­nal to ask?”

Xia, whose older brother Xia Qinchen, from the eastern coastal city of Qing­dao, was a pas­sen­ger, de­manded that rel­a­tives be al­lowed to view their loved ones’ bod­ies be­fore they are cre­mated. In past dis­as­ters, au­thor­i­ties have in­stead cre­mated bod­ies and de­liv­ered ashes to the vic­tims’ fam­i­lies, in keep­ing with the tight man­age­ment of the af­ter­math of dis­as­ters and fears of spi­ral­ing un­rest.

“Why do you view the com­mon peo­ple as your enemies?” Xia cried out. “There’s no hu­man feel­ing, can’t we change this habit?”

Many of the more than 450 peo­ple on board the cruise ship were re­ported to be re­tirees tak­ing in the Yangtze’s scenic vis­tas.

With 103 con­firmed dead and 339 miss­ing, the cap­siz­ing is likely to be­come the coun­try’s dead­li­est boat dis­as­ter in seven decades. The 14 sur­vivors in­clude three who found air pock­ets in the over­turned boat and were pulled out by divers on Tues­day af­ter res­cuers tapped the hull and heard yelling in re­sponse.

Cranes righted the boat Fri­day morn­ing af­ter some 50 divers at­tached chains to it overnight, Trans­porta­tion Min­istry spokesman Xu Cheng­guang said, adding that dis­as­ter teams would now fo­cus on find­ing and iden­ti­fy­ing bod­ies. The boat was grad­u­ally lifted out of the river as wa­ter drained from its cab­ins.

Divers found more bod­ies through Fri­day, bring­ing the death toll to 103, CCTV re­ported.

Po­lice and para­mil­i­tary troops sta- tioned on the river­bank have blocked ac­cess to the site, and au­thor­i­ties have tightly con­trolled me­dia cov­er­age.

Records show the cap­sized ship was cited for safety vi­o­la­tions dur­ing an in­spec­tion in 2013, ac­cord­ing to a Nan­jing’s Mar­itime Safety re­port, which didn’t spec­ify the vi­o­la­tions.

The shal­low-draft boat was not de­signed to with­stand winds as heavy as an ocean-go­ing ves­sel can. Weather au­thor­i­ties have said the storm the boat en­coun­tered had winds up to 130 kilo­me­ters (80 miles) per hour.

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

The Eastern Star dis­as­ter could be­come the coun­try’s worst 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.

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