Fam­i­lies seek an­swers in cap­siz­ing

Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties give up hope of find­ing sur­vivors and begin lift­ing the boat.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Julie Maki­nen julie.maki­nen@la­times.com Twit­ter: @JulieMakLAT Tommy Yang, Ni­cole Liu and Har­vard Zhang in The Times’ Bei­jing bureau con­trib­uted to this re­port.

BEI­JING — More than 1,000 peo­ple whose rel­a­tives were pre­sumed lost aboard a cap­sized Chi­nese cruise ship con­verged Thurs­day on towns near the site, seek­ing an­swers about the dis­as­ter and of­fer­ing DNA sam­ples to help iden­tify corpses.

By early Fri­day, re­cov­ery work­ers had be­gun try­ing to lift the sub­merged ship up­right us­ing two large, barge-borne cranes as hope of find­ing sur­vivors slipped away, turn­ing the ves­sel 90 de­grees onto its side at one point.

“There is slim chance that we will find more sur­vivors in­side the hull,” said Xu Cheng­guang, a spokesman for the Trans­porta­tion Min­istry. “We have made the gen­eral judg­ment that there is no pos­si­bil­ity of sur­vival.”

Xu said the de­ci­sion would help find the miss­ing “in the short­est pos­si­ble time” and “pro­tect the dig­nity of the de­ceased.”

On Thurs­day, about 200 taxis and 1,500 pri­vate ve­hi­cles with yel­low rib­bons tied around their side-view mir­rors were or­ga­nized into a vol­un­teer fleet to greet ar­riv­ing fam­ily mem­bers at high­way toll plazas and other trans­porta­tion junc­tions in Jianli county, south of Wuhan in Hubei prov­ince.

A num­ber of ho­tels said they were of­fer­ing free ac­com­mo­da­tions to fam­ily mem­bers, and po­lice called on lo­cals to vol­un­teer avail­able rooms. But some next of kin com­plained that they had not been al­lowed to visit the site of the sink­ing and were es­sen­tially trapped in their ho­tel rooms, watch­ing state-run TV and surf­ing the In­ter­net for the lat­est news, with­out any spe­cial brief­ings.

“Five mem­bers of my fam­ily are there, but they can’t go to the res­cue site. Peo­ple take them out to eat, to ‘keep them com­pany,’ but I think they want to keep a close eye on them,” said Lin Li, 20, whose grand­fa­ther, Lin Weizhu, was aboard the ves­sel. “They are re­cov­er­ing more bod­ies each day, but they haven’t re­leased any names.”

Au­thor­i­ties said Thurs­day af­ter­noon that 82 bod­ies had been re­cov­ered and 14 sur­vivors had been found from the Eastern Star, which sank in the Yangtze River on Mon­day night with 458 peo- ple aboard amid bad weather en route from Nan­jing to Chongqing.

More than 360 corpses may still be aboard the ves­sel. Late Wed­nes­day, res­cue work­ers cut sev­eral holes into the hull in hopes of dis­cov­er­ing sur­vivors trapped in air pock­ets but found none.

State-run news me­dia have taken pains to em­pha­size the of­fi­cial re­sponse, not­ing Thurs­day that the Polit­buro Stand­ing Com­mit­tee had con­vened a meet­ing on the dis­as­ter, over­seen by Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping. The cen­tral gov­ern­ment said it had ap­pro­pri­ated $1.6 mil­lion as an emer­gency fund to sup­port the res­cue-and-re­cov­ery op­er­a­tions.

But rel­a­tives des­per­ate for an­swers have clashed with lo­cal of­fi­cials in Shang­hai and other cities, com­plain­ing they have been de­nied timely in­for­ma­tion about the cap­sized ship. State-run CCTV said 1,200 rel­a­tives had ar­rived in the Jianli area as of midafter­noon Thurs­day.

At one morgue in Jianli, of­fi­cials had pre­pared large in­for­ma­tion boards to help with the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of bod­ies; charts had spa­ces for a photo of the de­ceased along with de­tails about where their re­mains could be found in the fa­cil­ity.

Huang Zhen, chief of Jianli county, said all the corpses would be brought to lo­cal morgues and DNA sam­ples would be taken, then rel­a­tives would be con- tacted. A Min­istry of Civil Af­fairs of­fi­cial, Zhang Shifeng, said that ex­tra tem­per­a­ture­con­trolled coffins had been de­liv­ered to morgues and that mor­ti­cians had been sum­moned from Wuhan to help pre­pare the bod­ies for view­ing.

Zhang said prepa­ra­tions were be­ing made to help next of kin visit the site of the cap­sized ship but added, “Right now we can­not fully sat­isfy the pas­sen­gers’ rel­a­tives’ de­mands.”

How long it might take to ex­tri­cate the corpses from the Eastern Star and iden­tify the re­mains was un­clear. But au­thor­i­ties said that with nearly 72 hours hav­ing passed since the ship flipped over, there was no chance of find­ing any­one else alive.

“The in­ter­na­tional rou­tine re­gards 72 hours as the stan­dard line of life,” Wang Zhi­gang, a lo­cal manager from the China Clas­si­fi­ca­tion So­ci­ety, a ship safety agency, told the state-run New China News Agency. “Up un­til that time, [we] have to make all ef­forts to de­ter­mine whether there is life or not.”

The ex­act cause of the dis­as­ter re­mained un­clear Thurs­day. Of­fi­cials have said the cruise ship en­coun­tered a freak tor­nado shortly af­ter 9 p.m. Mon­day. But myr­iad ques­tions re­mained, in­clud­ing why the cap­tain had con­tin­ued his voy­age when other ships along the wa­ter­way had an­chored to wait out the in­clement weather.

The cap­tain and the chief en­gi­neer are among the 14 sur­vivors and are in po­lice cus­tody, but au­thor­i­ties re­leased no new in­for­ma­tion Thurs­day about their in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the sink­ing. The Trans­porta­tion Min­istry or­dered the owner of the ship, Chongqing Eastern Ship­ping Corp., to con­duct a full ex­am­i­na­tion of the rest of its ships and sus­pend op­er­a­tions of the Eastern Pearl, which was built us­ing the same de­sign as the Eastern Star.

Video of sev­eral other sur­vivors con­va­lesc­ing in a hos­pi­tal in Jianli was broad­cast on CCTV. Zhu Hong­mei, 65, who was res­cued from the ship Tues­day af­ter­noon, said she sur­vived 15 hours trapped in the over­turned ves­sel by cling­ing to a pole in an air pocket.

An­other sur­vivor, tour guide Jiang Geng, was res­cued by fish­er­men who found him cling­ing to a life vest in the river at 9:30 a.m. Tues­day. Xi Xi­um­ing, a doc­tor from Bei­jing who was help­ing treat sur­vivors in Jianli, said Jiang was un­der se­vere psy­cho­log­i­cal pres­sure.

“There were many se­nior cit­i­zens in his group, many of them were long-stand­ing clients,” Xi said. “They may all be dead, and so this is cre­at­ing in­tense psy­cho­log­i­cal stress for him.”

At the Jianli Mil­len­nium Ho­tel, all 30 rooms were full, pri­mar­ily with next of kin but also a few jour­nal­ists; some rooms had as many as six peo­ple, said the re­cep­tion­ist, a woman sur­named Chen. She said fam­ily mem­bers were be­ing in­structed to pro­vide DNA sam­ples to au­thor­i­ties. The pro­pri­etors of the ho­tel, she said, were pro­vid­ing free shel­ter to the griev­ing fam­i­lies.

Rel­a­tives of the pas­sen­gers, along with some re­porters, were be­ing fer­ried around Jianli by vol­un­teers with the ad hoc Yel­low Rib­bon Group. A rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the group, sur­named Xiong, said cars with yel­low rib­bons had been dis­patched to high­way toll plazas to re­ceive in­com­ing next of kin, reg­is­ter their per­sonal de­tails and help them find ac­com­mo­da­tions in the city.

Lin, whose grand­fa­ther was aboard the ves­sel, said her fam­ily had last heard from him about 6 p.m. Mon­day when he had called his wife. He did not men­tion the ship had en­coun­tered poor weather, she said.

The 67-year-old was trav­el­ing with eight col­leagues from his fruit and veg­etable trad­ing com­pany; the 11-day Yangtze cruise was a re­ward for long­time em­ploy­ees.

“No one from the gov­ern­ment or the travel com­pany has con­tacted our fam­ily,” she said, speak­ing by phone from the city of Fuqing in Fu­jian prov­ince. “We don’t even know what cabin he was in.”

Lin said that she be­lieved the storm con­trib­uted to the cap­siz­ing but that she still had many ques­tions.

“From the re­ports I’ve seen, it does seem that the weather was bad; I do be­lieve there could have been a tor­nado,” she said. “But other boats an­chored. Why did this ship move for­ward? We need to hear the full in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

Euro­pean Pressphoto Agency

TWO CRANES on barges are in po­si­tion to lift the cap­sized Eastern Star on the Yangtze River in Jianli county, China. “We have made the gen­eral judg­ment that there is no pos­si­bil­ity of sur­vival,” an of­fi­cial said.


JIANLI RES­I­DENTS pay their re­spects to the boat vic­tims. Rel­a­tives of pas­sen­gers said they had not been al­lowed to visit the site of the sink­ing.

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