5 Jun 2015

Capsized Chinese ship righted by salvagers

2:53 pm on 5 June 2015

Chinese salvagers have fully righted the ship which capsized on the Yangtze River, on which more than 400 people are thought to have died.

Chinese salvagers have begun to right an upturned ship on which more than 400 people are thought to have died.

Chinese salvagers have begun to right an upturned ship on which more than 400 people are thought to have died. Photo: AFP

The Eastern Star capsized in the Yangtze River late on Monday after being caught in a storm.

Just 14 of the 456 passengers and crew are known to have survived in what looks set to be China's worst shipping disaster in decades.

The beginning of the operation to right the stricken ship seemed to signal the end of hopes of finding more survivors.

Rescue workers on the upturned hull, which was just barely visible over the brown waters of the Yangtze, were towered over by two cranes.

Hooks were welded onto the ship and a net stretched around the entire structure in preparation for lifting it.

By first light on Friday, the ship could be seen lying on its side with its name visible just above the waters.

Now the ship is righted, the focus of emergency workers at the site in Jianli, Hubei province will switch from attempting to find survivors to searching the ship's 150 cabins for bodies.

About 80 bodies have so far been recovered, some after three holes were cut into the vessel's upturned hull. The holes were later welded closed in order to preserve the ship's buoyancy.

Xu Chengguang, a spokesman for the transport ministry, said on Thursday night said there there had been no further signs of life inside the ship, Xinhua news agency reports.

He said officials would "absolutely not cover up anything" in the investigation, state media reports.

Chinese President Xi Jinping promised a thorough investigation into the cause of the disaster, after angry relatives protested at the scene.

Authorities tightly controlled access to the site, leading family members and journalists to complain about a lack of information.

Most of the 14 people known to have survived jumped from the ship as it began to sink. Three were rescued by divers from air pockets in the upturned hull.

The cause of the sinking is not yet known, but survivors have spoken of an intense storm which flipped the boat over in minutes.

The captain and chief engineer, who were among those who escaped, have since been detained.

Maritime agency records showed the ship was investigated for safety violations two years ago. It was held alongside five other vessels in 2013 over safety concerns.

China's deadliest maritime disaster in recent decades was in November 1999, when the Dashun ferry caught fire and capsized in the sea off Shandong province, killing about 280.

The Eastern Star could become China's deadliest boat accident since the SS Kiangya sank off Shanghai in 1948, killing somewhere between 2750 and 4000 people.

- BBC

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