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Sunken Ship Lifted as Search for the Missing Continues
   2015-06-05 17:58:08    Xinhua/CRIENGLISH.com      Web Editor: Qian Shanming

Distorted cabin windows are seen from the capsized Eastern Star when the ship is being hoisted from water on the Yangtze River in Jianli county, central China¡¯s Hubei Province on June 5, 2015. [Photo: Xinhua]

Huge cranes hoisted the Eastern Star from murky waters of the Yangtze River on Friday afternoon, nearly four days after the cruise ship capsized with more than 450 onboard.

While rescuers continued the search for hundreds of passengers and crew still unaccounted for, the death toll climbed to 103. Only 14 survivors have been found. The ship was carrying 456 people, mostly elderly tourists.

Rescuers on Friday morning righted the 2,200-tonne ship and began hoisting at about 4 p.m. By 6:50 p.m., the entire hull was above the water, allowing rescuers to enter.

Liu Xiaowu, an officer with Guangzhou Military Area Command on the scene in Jianli in central China's Hubei Province, said the rescuers' focus had moved to the interior of the hull, and they hope to complete the search in seven hours.

The decision to right the upturned ship and hoist it out of the water was made after divers' efforts in the past three days to search the ship for survivors were in vain. Rescuers are continuing to comb an extended area of the Yangtze River for survivors.

The Eastern Star was on a 11-day trip along the Yangtze River when it was overturned on Monday night by what the captain described as a freak tornado. Since then, more than 3,400 soldiers and 1,700 paramilitary police with 149 vessels and a helicopter have joined in the rescue.

President Xi Jinping has demanded a serious investigation into the cause of the tragedy. On Friday, Vice Premier Ma Kai visited the site, asking for swift rescue operation inside the hull and proper treatment of the retrieved bodies.

DISTRAUGHT RELATIVES

More than 1,200 relatives of those on board arrived in Jianli on Thursday afternoon. On Friday, many of them went to the riverbank to watch the ship being raised.

Many of those watching appeared to be in their 30s and 40s. Some broke down in tears when the vessel emerged from the river. Others looked more calm but exhausted after anxiously waiting for the news of their loved ones for days.

A woman from Tianjin was seen kneeling and bowing toward the ship murmuring, "If you have spirit, please come home with me."

A 63-year-old man, who wished not to have his real name revealed in the report, was among the 14 survivors but his wife remains missing. He recalled how suddenly the ship overturned, flinging him out of the cabin window while his wife was trapped in the sinking hulk.

"I even did not have the chance to take a last look at her," he said. "We've been married for over 30 years. We've just retired and had plans for a happy retirement life. We never expected this."

Authorities in Jianli have asked relatives to provide blood samples to match their DNA with that of the victims.

The government of Yueyang, a city in Hunan Province near the site of the tragedy, said workers are standing by in mortuaries with coffins and body bags prepared.

RIGHTING THE SHIP

After three days of divers going through cabins and searches of the nearby turbid waters, rescuers on Thursday evening decided to right the vessel.

Equipment had failed to detect any signs of life during the 72 hours after the ship sank, a period widely believed to be crucial in finding survivors.

"There is a slim chance that we may find more survivors inside the hull, but we have made a general assumption that there is no possibility of survival," said Xu Chengguang of the Ministry of Transport.

Xu explained that the decision would help find the missing "in the shortest possible time" and "protect the dignity of the deceased".

SHIP OPERATOR RESPONDS

Chongqing Dongfang Shipping Company, which owns the Eastern Star and four other cruise ships on the river, has been ordered to examine its shipping business following the tragedy, but no official investigation of the company has been mooted.

Tan Yuping, head of the company's technological department, said the Eastern Star has a sound safety operation record. She was launched in 1994 as a vessel for passenger transport, converted into a cruise ship 1997 and put into service after passing standard industry tests.

The Eastern Star's annual safety inspection on April 16 found survival equipment on the vessel met requirements.


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