The death toll from a cruise ship that sank on China’s Yangtze River was confirmed at 442 on Saturday, Chinese media outlets reported, as the final bodies were found from the nation’s worst shipping disaster.
Only 12 people survived when the Eastern Star cruise ship capsized during a storm on June 1, Tang Guanjun (唐冠軍), the director of the river’s navigation authority, was quoted as saying by Xinhua news agency.
All of the dead have now been identified using DNA testing and the bodies have been transferred to relatives, he said. So far 426 bodies have been cremated, in line with Chinese custom.
A total of 454 people, mainly tourists in their 60s, were on the ship when it sank in Jianli in China’s central Hubei Province in what witnesses said was a matter of seconds.
Weather officials said a freak tornado hit the area at the time.
Tang said earlier reports that 14 people had survived out of 456 had been revised after “further check-ups and verifications,” Xinhua reported.
The final toll comes after search and rescue personnel last week held a solemn ceremony for the dead after distraught relatives from across China gathered near the disaster site.
Information about the sinking, and media access to the site and to relatives of passengers, has been tightly controlled and online criticism of the search quickly deleted.
Teams scoured the sunken ship for days, going room to room underwater before finally lifting the body of the vessel from the water using vast cranes, but poor weather and visibility hampered rescue efforts.
The search scope was also extended to 1,300km of the Yangtze, Asia’s longest river, in the hope of finding those still unaccounted for.
Search and rescue operations have now been ended, but an investigation into the sinking is still under way, Tang was quoted as saying by Xinhua.
A petition posted by family members on 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.
The sinking is the nation’s worst shipping disaster since the Chinese Communist Party came to power in 1949. In 1948 up to 4,000 on board the Kiangya were killed when it sank near Shanghai.
Reports have said the 76.5m-long, 2,200 tonne Eastern Star overturned in less than a minute. The vessel was cited for safety infractions two years ago, and state broadcaster CCTV had said investigators would probe its structure for any flaws.
In operation for nearly 20 years, the ship underwent an annual maintenance late last year and was fit to cruise until April 2016, Xinhua said.
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