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 331 by 8:00 am Saturday. 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 pm. By 6:50 pm, 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.