China rescuers right ship to speed up search for missing
Top-deck cabins poked out of the water from a capsized river cruise ship on the Yangtze on Friday after disaster teams righted the vessel to quicken the search for more than 340 victims still missing.
A total of 97 bodies have been found since Monday night’s sudden capsizing in a severe storm. The operation to right the Eastern Star started late Thursday and shifted the focus from finding survivors to retrieving bodies. State broadcaster CCTV announced Friday morning that the boat had been righted, and that teams would still try to lift the vessel even though the water inside it was weighing it down.
Transport Ministry spokesman Xu Chengguang said earlier that the operation would involve divers putting steel bars underneath the ship, which would then be lifted by two 500-ton cranes. A huge net was placed near the cranes and another one a few meters (yards) downstream to catch any bodies.
Two smaller cranes were also on site and boats were stopped from entering the area.
Authorities say 14 people survived the disaster, some by jumping from the ship during the early moments and swimming or drifting ashore. Three of them were pulled by divers from air pockets inside the overturned hull Tuesday after rescuers heard yells for help coming from inside.
Xu told a news conference that no further signs of life had been found and the chance of finding anyone else alive was “very slim.”
On Thursday, rescuers had cut three holes into the overturned hull in unsuccessful attempts to find more survivors.
More than 200 divers have worked underwater in three shifts to search the ship’s cabins one by one, state broadcaster CCTV said. Rescuers pulled out dozens of bodies Thursday which were taken to Jianli’s Rongcheng Crematorium, in Hubei province, where relatives tried to identify them.
Many of the more than 450 people on board the multi-decked, 251-foot (77-meter) -long Eastern Star were reported to be retirees taking in the scenic vistas of the Yangtze on a cruise from Nanjing to the southwestern city of Chongqing.
The capsize of the Eastern Star will likely become the country’s deadliest boat disaster in seven decades, and Chinese authorities have launched a high-profile response that has included sending Premier Li Keqiang to the accident site.
The survivors included the ship’s captain and chief engineer, both of whom have been taken into police custody.
The cruise ship carrying mainly elderly tourists was on a 11-day trip along the Yangtze River when it was immediately overturned by a freak tornado on Monday night in Jianli in central China’s Hubei Province.