Toll in China ship tragedy rises past 400
JIANLI, China – Salvage and rescue personnel bowed their heads on Sunday morning, June 7, as ship horns blared in tribute to the victims of China's worst shipping disaster in nearly 7 decades after the death toll rose past 400.
State-run CCTV television broadcast live images of personnel pausing in remembrance of the 406 people confirmed dead after the "Eastern Star" cruise ship capsized late Monday, June 1, on the Yangtze River.
Searchers in white hooded surgical suits could be seen on board the Eastern Star, while others in work gear and military-style fatigues formed columns on the decks of massive crane vessels that raised the ill-fated ship out of the water on Friday.
The solemn ceremony, attended by Yang Chuantang, China's transport minister, proceeded under grey and cloudy skies for several minutes as cameras panned over the area, with crews on smaller boats stopped nearby also participating.
CCTV and the official Xinhua news agency reported Sunday that the death toll had risen to 406, with another 36 people still missing.
Only 14 survivors have been confirmed out of the 456 people – mostly tourists aged over 60 – on board when the ship capsized on the river in the county of Jianli in China's central Hubei province.
The death toll on Saturday, June 6, jumped by over 200 after rescuers used massive cranes to hoist the vessel out of the water on Friday and began recovering bodies trapped inside.
The tally makes the disaster China's worst in shipping since 1948, when up to 4,000 on board the SS Kiangya were killed when it sank near Shanghai.
Officials on Saturday extended their search for victims that 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 the hope of finding those still unaccounted for, Xinhua reported.
A government spokesman said on Thursday, June 4, that no further survivors were expected to be found.
Reports have said the 76.5-meter-long (250 feet) and 2,200-tonne ship overturned in under a minute, and 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 will probe the ship's structure for flaws.
Information about the sinking and media access to the site have been tightly controlled, and online criticism of the search operation quickly deleted.
China's stability-obsessed Communist rulers often seek to contain anger over the official handling of disasters, fearing that it could spiral into dissent.
Nevertheless 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.
A petition posted by family members on social media service WeChat called for the death penalty for ship's captain – one of the few survivors of the disaster – who is in police custody. – Neil Connor, AFP / Rappler.com