Yangtze River ship tragedy’s toll above 400

The China Post - - BUSINESS - BY NEIL CON­NOR

Res­cuers bowed their heads and ships’ hoot­ers blared in trib­ute Sun­day to the vic­tims of Com­mu­nist China’s worst ship­ping dis­as­ter, as rel­a­tives of the 431 dead and 11 still miss­ing spoke of their grief.

The solemn cer­e­mony was held to re­mem­ber the dead af­ter the “Eastern Star” cruise ship car­ry­ing 456 peo­ple cap­sized late Mon­day on the Yangtze River in a storm.

Searchers in white hooded sur­gi­cal suits could be seen on board the Eastern Star. Oth­ers in work gear, or­ange safety vests and mil­i­tary-style fa­tigues formed col­umns on the deck of a mas­sive float­ing crane, one of three that had raised the ship on Fri­day.

The event, at­tended by Trans­port Min­is­ter Yang Chuan­tang, went ahead un­der gray and cloudy skies.

Of­fi­cials on Sun­day an­nounced that the death toll had risen to 431, with an­other 11 peo­ple still miss­ing.

Only 14 sur­vivors have been con­firmed out of all those aboard, who were mostly tourists aged over 60, af­ter the ship cap­sized at night in Jianli county in the cen­tral prov­ince of Hubei.

In ac­cor­dance with tra­di­tional cus­tom, rel­a­tives of the dead should mourn loved ones on the sev­enth day by Chi­nese reckoning fol­low­ing their death.

In­for­ma­tion about the sink­ing, and me­dia ac­cess to the site and to rel­a­tives of pas­sen­gers, has been tightly con­trolled. On­line crit­i­cism of the search has been quickly deleted.

China’s sta­bil­ity-ob­sessed Com- mu­nist rulers of­ten try to con­tain anger over the of­fi­cial han­dling of dis­as­ters, fear­ing that it could spi­ral into dis­sent.

A pe­ti­tion posted by fam­ily mem­bers on the so­cial me­dia ser­vice WeChat has called for the death penalty for the ship’s cap­tain — one of the few sur­vivors of the dis­as­ter — who is in po­lice cus­tody.

But rather than anger or recriminations, rel­a­tives made avail­able for in­ter­views on Sun­day spoke of their grief, re­gret and im­pos­si­ble hopes.

“I wish my fa­ther and mother would come back,” said Wang Hua, who lost her fa­ther Wang Xingkui and mother Li Yulin.

“I wish the whole thing was just made up. Even now, I still can’t be­lieve it’s true,” she added, cry­ing help­lessly into her hand­ker­chief.

“They were so kind, I never imag­ined such a tragic thing would hap­pen to them.”

Fu Cong­hai, whose brother Fu Hong­sheng and nephew Fu Jin­ning were on the boat, said the next step was to iden­tify their bod­ies.

“We are wait­ing for the DNA test re­sults, and when they have com­pleted that and can con­firm them, we can meet our loved ones,” he said, re­fer­ring to the pos­si­bil­ity of view­ing the re­mains.

Wang, Fu and other se­lected rel­a­tives spoke to re­porters at venues ar­ranged by the au­thor­i­ties and were watched by of­fi­cials dur­ing the in­ter­views.

The death toll on Satur­day had jumped by over 200 af­ter res­cuers had used the mas­sive cranes to hoist the ves­sel out of the wa­ter the day be­fore and be­gan re­cov­er­ing bod­ies trapped in­side.

It was China’s worst ship­ping dis­as­ter since the Com­mu­nist Party came to power in 1949. In 1948 up to 4,000 on board the SS Kiangya were killed when it sank near Shang­hai.

Of­fi­cials on Satur­day ex­tended their search for vic­tims who may have been swept far be­yond the ac­ci­dent site. The search scope was ex­tended to 1,300 kilo­me­ters (800 miles) of the Yangtze, Asia’s long­est river, in hopes of find­ing those still un­ac­counted for.

A gov­ern­ment spokesman has said no fur­ther sur­vivors were ex­pected.

News of the dis­as­ter re­mained the top trend­ing topic on Chi­nese so­cial me­dia, and at­ten­tion Sun­day was fo­cused on mourn­ing.

“May the dead be at peace in heaven and the living be strong,” posted a user of Sina Weibo, a Chi­nese ver­sion of Twit­ter.

Re­ports have said the 76.5-me- ter- long and 2,200- tonne ship over­turned in less than a minute. Weather of­fi­cials said a freak tor­nado hit the area at the time.

The ves­sel was cited for safety in­frac­tions two years ago, and CCTV said in­ves­ti­ga­tors would probe its struc­ture for any flaws.

Wang, from the eastern prov­ince of Shan­dong, said her par­ents had not told her they were go­ing on the trip un­til just be­fore their de­par­ture, which wor­ried her and her brother.

She last spoke to her fa­ther on May 31, when he said he was en­joy­ing the cruise along the Yangtze.

But some­thing he said caused her fur­ther un­ease

“I heard him laugh­ing,” she said. “He of­fered my child best wishes for his up­com­ing birth­day and then said ‘This is my last phone call.’

“I couldn’t help think­ing about that.”

AP

Wang Hua, who lost her fa­ther and mother aboard the cap­sized ship “Eastern Star” grieves dur­ing an in­ter­view with for­eign jour­nal­ists or­ga­nized by gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials in Jianli County of south­ern China’s Hubei prov­ince Sun­day, June 7.

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