Race against time to find China ship survivors

2015-06-03 06:19
Chinese soldiers walk down a slipway to the water near the unseen capsized passenger ship Dongfangzhixing or "Eastern Star" which sank in the Yangtze River. (Johannes Eisele, AFP)

Chinese soldiers walk down a slipway to the water near the unseen capsized passenger ship Dongfangzhixing or "Eastern Star" which sank in the Yangtze River. (Johannes Eisele, AFP)

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Jianli - Relatives of more than 400 people missing after a cruise ship capsized on China's Yangtze River were hoping for a "miracle" on Wednesday, as authorities said they were racing against time to find any survivors.

State media said just 14 people have been rescued from the "Eastern Star" which overturned late on Monday in a storm, with just a section of its hull now emerging from the murky waters.

Another 18 bodies have been recovered, state broadcaster CCTV said, leaving hundreds of mostly elderly passengers still missing and possibly trapped within the ship which witnesses said sank in a matter of seconds.

A total of 456 people had been on board the vessel which was plying a popular tourist route from the eastern city of Nanjing to the south-western city of Chongqing.

Race against clock

Some 36 hours after the accident, hopes for more survivors are dwindling.

"We are in a race against the clock in the search," transport minister Yang Chuantang said on Tuesday.

"It happened suddenly and the rescue has been quite difficult," he said as driving rain hampered the search. "As long as there is the slightest hope, we will make every effort and never give up."

Relatives were also refusing to give up.

"I'm hoping for a miracle," Tan Zhenxing, whose father worked on the boat, told the China Daily newspaper.

Rescuers pulled at least three survivors from the wreckage on Tuesday after they cut through part of the ship's overturned hull to reach the interior of the vessel, but then worked through the night in vain.

Grim images broadcast on state-run CCTV showed what appeared to be a dead woman being pulled from the water, her body already rigid.

Tough rescue

Fields around the site of the capsized boat were heavily waterlogged, and many of the pathways being used by rescue workers were ankle-deep in mud and rainwater.

Emergency vehicles heading out of a rescue centre set up on the riverside had to pass through deep water, and emergency crews laboured under heavy waterproof clothing and boots.

At a meeting late on Tuesday, Premier Li Keqiang urged divers to keep searching the ship in an "overnight battle" to find more survivors, state news agency Xinhua said.

Local reports said the passengers were mostly aged over 60.

Passengers seemed to have little warning before the ship sank, with Zhang Hui, a 43-year-old tour guide on board, telling Xinhua that he had "30 seconds to grab a life jacket".

The captain and chief engineer, who were among the survivors and were being questioned by police, both reportedly said the ship was caught in a freak "cyclone".

CCTV said the 76.5m vessel had floated 3km down river after it capsized in Jianli County, part of the central province of Hubei.

A local man surnamed Wang told AFP that the storm on Monday night was the worst he had seen in years.

Read more on:    china  |  maritime accidents

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