Hundreds missing after ship sinks in China’s Yangtze River

Posted at 4:53 AM, Jun 02, 2015
and last updated 2015-06-02 04:53:11-04

HONG KONG — A desperate rescue effort. More than 400 people unaccounted for in a sunken cruise ship. The captain and chief engineer in custody.

China was facing up to an unfolding disaster in the murky waters of the Yangtze River on Tuesday.

The cruise ship, the Eastern Star, capsized late Monday in stormy weather along a stretch of the Yangtze that winds through central China’s Hubei province, authorities said.

The bad weather hampered initial search and rescue efforts, according to state media. By Tuesday morning, divers were in the water and rescue workers were walking along part of the vessel’s upturned hull that was sticking out of the water.

The divers knocked on the ship under the water and heard responses from inside, a state-run local newspaper reported. Welders were trying to cut the cabin open, it said.

Rescuers find survivors, bodies

One rescue worker was seen lying on the exposed part of the hull, tapping the metal with a small hammer and apparently listening out for responses.

Early in the afternoon, a 65-year-old woman was pulled alive from the water, official media reported. They had initially given her age as 85.

A total of 14 survivors and five bodies have been recovered so far, according to China’s state-run broadcaster CCTV.

The survivors include the captain and chief engineer, who have been taken into custody for questioning by police, according to state media.

But the fates of the hundreds of other people aboard the ship was unclear.

Youngest passenger was 3 years old

Their relatives were desperately seeking news.

Yan Mao told CNN that his mother, aunt, and two cousins were on the ship after boarding it at Nanjing, the eastern Chinese city where the cruise began Thursday.

Yan said he was on his way to Wuhan, a major city roughly 150 kilometers (95 miles) from the area where the ship is reported to have gone down.

“I am anxious to find them,” he told CNN. “Of course I believe they are alive, otherwise I wouldn’t go there.”

Yang Min, a resident of Shanghai whose parents and child were on the ship, said he was anxiously waiting with many other families for updates at a local government office in the city.

Most of the 406 passengers on the cruise were aged between 50 and 80, according to a list published by state media. The youngest was only 3 years old.

There were also 47 crew members and five travel agency workers on board, according to state media.

Chinese Premier arrives at site

The Eastern Star capsize around 9:30 p.m. Monday during a storm over the section of the river that flows through Hubei’s Jianli county, China’s state-run news agency Xinhua reported, citing the Yangtze River navigation administration.

Local authorities launched their rescue efforts after receiving a phone call from a survivor who had managed to swim ashore, according to Chinese media.

The sunken ship is now located about 3 kilometers from the shore where the river is around 15 meters (50 feet) deep, CCTV reported.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and other senior officials arrived Tuesday at the site of the disaster to oversee the large-scale emergency response.

A CNN team saw scores of military trucks and buses on an expressway heading toward the site of the sinking. Each one was packed with soldiers wearing orange life vests.

The Yangtze is the third-longest river in the world, stretching 6,300 kilometers (3,915 miles) from its source in the mountains of Tibet all the way to the East China Sea.

The Eastern Star had been making a multistop journey up the river from Nanjing to Chongqing, a city hundreds of kilometers inland.

The images of the upended ship evoked memories of the sinking of the Sewol, the South Korean passenger ferry that sank last year, taking the lives of more than 300 people, most of them high school students.