Yangtze River Tragedy, the “Oriental Star” sinking, showcases China’s ailing maritime system

Chinese authorities are racing to reach survivors still trapped beneath a passenger ship that capsized in the Yangtze River late Monday. There were more than 450 passengers and crew with ages ranging from three to 80 were on board the ship when it went down.  And most of the passengers were elderly Chinese tourists.

Only 15 survivors have found, more than 400 are still missing, probably trapped within the ship. Late Tuesday, People’s Daily website published three bodies were found 50 kilometers from the wreckage site.

The ship’s captain and chief engineer, among those who managed to escape the sunken ship, are in the custody of authorities as officials investigate the cause of the incident.

State media have blamed the incident on bad weather the vessel encountered on its voyage from Nanjing to Chongqing.  Both the captain and chief engineer said the ship was suddenly struck by a tornado before it capsized, according to the Xinhua news agency.

What is clear is that torrential rains and strong winds were pelting the area where the incident occurred when the ship tipped over.  Weather forecaster states that heavy rains will further hinder the rescue efforts since it’s probable to stay through Wednesday.

Rescue workers passed over on the bobbing hull of the ship and cut open holes in an effort to reach those trapped inside and still alive.

Shortly after noon on Tuesday, a 65 year old woman was pulled from the wreckage and was seen being helped out of the water by rescue workers.  State media say the condition of the rescued woman is stable.  After, another was pulled out.

China’s cruise industry along the Yangtze River is developing, and because the country looks to boost domestic spending, retirees are a main focus of travel agencies.  According to the Chinese media reports, the Oriental Star has been in service for more than 20 years and is owned by the Chongqing Oriental Ferry Company, a state-owned enterprise that is struggling with mounting debt.

Chinese authorities have been quick to take action, highlighting on efforts to save possible survivors.  President Xi Jinping has “ordered all out rescue efforts” and his right hand man, Premier Li Keqiang, traveled to the site of the accident.

Authorities have also ordained tough restrictions on media coverage in an apparent effort to limit strong public response to the occurrence. Journalists have barred from using anything other than Xinhua reports and CCTV images.  For those reporters who have traveled to the scene were demanded to return immediately to where they are based.

Image: http://gdb.voanews.com/

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