Wed, Jun 03, 2015 - Page 1 News List

Hundreds feared dead as Chinese vessel capsizes

Reuters, JIANLI COUNTY, China

A survivor is rescued yesterday by divers from the Eastern Star, which sank on Monday night in a stretch of the Yangtze River in Hubei Province, China.

Photo: AFP

Rescuers yesterday fought stormy weather as they searched for more than 400 people, many of them elderly tourists, missing after a cruise ship capsized on China’s Yangtze River.

The accident on Monday night is likely to end up as China’s worst shipping disaster in almost 70 years.

Divers and other rescue workers rescued 15 people they found trapped in the upturned hull of the four-deck Eastern Star, a fraction of the 458 people that state media said were on board when the ship capsized in what officials called a tornado.

Distraught relatives of passengers scuffled with officials in Shanghai, where many of those on board booked their trips, angry about what they said was a lack of information.

Dozens of rescue boats battled wind and rain to reach the ship, upturned in water about 15m deep.

Xinhua news agency said rescuers could hear people calling for help from inside the hull, while TV news showed rescuers cutting through it with an angle grinder.

One of the people pulled from the capsized boat was a 65-year-old woman. Divers used breathing gear to bring her to the surface.

About another dozen had been rescued and six bodies recovered, media reported, leaving more than 430 people unaccounted for.

China’s weather bureau said a tornado hit the area where the boat was, rare in a nation where are not common.

The People’s Daily, which published a passenger manifest on its microblog, said those on board the Eastern Star ranged in age from three to more than 80.

Tour guide Zhang Hui, 43, told Xinhua the boat sank very fast and he scrambled out a window in torrential rain, clutching a life vest as he could not swim.

“Wave after wave crashed over me; I swallowed a lot of water,” Zhang said, adding that he was unable to flag down passing boats and finally struggled ashore holding onto a branch as dawn broke.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) ordered that no efforts be spared in the rescue and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (李克強) went to the scene of the accident in Hubei Province, Xinhua said.

About 60 family members gathered outside a travel agency in Shanghai and demanded information.

“I found out about this only on the television news while I was at work and I came here,” 35-year-old Wang Sheng said, adding that his parents were on board. “I cried all the way here and here I cannot find anyone, the door is locked.”

The ship’s captain and chief engineer, who were among the few to be rescued, were detained by police for questioning, Xinhua said.

According to the Yangtze River Administration of Navigational Affairs, the captain and crew said the ship sank quickly after it was caught in the tornado.

Xinhua said that initial investigations had found the ship was not overloaded and had enough life vests for its passengers. Those rescued were wearing life vests, Xinhua said.

Among those on board were 406 tourists, many elderly, along with 47 crew members and five tour guides, the People’s Daily said.

The Eastern Star, which has the capacity to carry more than 500 people, was heading to Chongqing from Nanjing, the capital of Jiangsu Province. It sank at about 9:28pm in the Jianli section of the Yangtze.

The Eastern Star is owned by Chongqing Eastern Shipping Corp.

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