By Wendy Laursen 2015-06-08 21:28:21
Search crews have recovered 434 bodies from the cruise ship which capsized during a storm in the Yangtze River last week. Eight people remain missing.
The Eastern Star was righted and raised on Friday, allowing rescuers in to clear away debris, break down cabin doors and look for bodies. Footage released by The Guardian shows rescue teams using circular saws to cut through muddy mangled metal in the hull as passengers’ personal belongings lie strewn around.
The rescue and recovery operation has involved nearly 150 other ships, 59 machines, 3,400 Chinese troops and 1,700 paramilitary personnel, reports news agency Xinhua.
Officials have expanded the search area to include more than 600 miles downstream and warned ships to look out for floating bodies, reports CNN.
The majority of the 405 passengers on the vessel were between 50 and 80 years old, but the youngest was three. There were also 46 crew members and five travel agency workers on board. All those on board were reported to be Chinese, says CNN.
The China Meteorological Center said a tornado less than one kilometer in diameter and lasting 15 to 20 minutes occurred.
The suddenness of the storm might explain why the no emergency call was sent, and why there were so few survivors despite enough lifejackets being available for those on board.
Some have questioned why the vessel was sailing given that there were multiple weather warnings issued by regional authorities in Hubei and Jingzhou. At this stage, it is not clear if the captain received the warnings.
The company which operated the ship has apologized for the disaster and said it would fully cooperate with the investigation. Beijing has pledged there would be no cover-up.
Police have detained the captain and chief engineer for questioning as part of the investigation. An initial probe found the ship was not overloaded and had enough life vests on board.
The captain Zhang Shunwen, and chief engineer Yang Zhongquan both report the vessel being caught in a freak storm, and BBC reports one passenger describing the ship as tilting at a “45-degree angle” before going down.
Zhang was quoted as saying by Xinhua that the ship overturned within one or two minutes.
He could be found culpable if he had abandoned the ship, said James Hu, professor at the Shanghai Maritime University and an expert in maritime law, although there is no evidence he did.
“China has one rule that it’s particularly strict on – the captain must be the last one to leave the ship,” Hu said. “If the leader of the ship is not the last to leave the ship, it is a jailable offence.”