Rescuers save a survivor from the overturned passenger ship in the Jianli section of the Yangtze River in central China's Hubei Province June 2, 2015. Photo: Xinhua
At least 14 people have been rescued from a ship carrying 456 passengers that capsized in the night of June 1 in the Hubei section of the Yangtze River. Five have been confirmed dead.
The authorities said the accident was caused by tornado. “The portside was hit by the gust and the ship overturned within a minute. The wind measured at least 110 kilometers per hour at 9-10 pm around the wreck site,” Hubei authorities said in a statement Tuesday.
The ship’s captain Zhang Shunwen and chief engineer Yang Zhongquan, who managed to escape the ship and swim to the shore, told the investigators that the ship was caught in a tornado en route from Nanjing to Chongqing. Most passengers aboard were elderly aged 50-80.
But the statement raised doubts among desperate family members of the passengers who questioned why the captain failed to take any precautionary actions ahead of the storm.
The ship, named Dongfangzhixing or Eastern Star, belongs to Chongqing Eastern Shipping Company. The cruiser measures 76 meters long and 11 meters wide.
“The cause of the accident was tornado, the worst tornado in a century,” a staff member of the shipping company told the China Press.
The ship was suddenly overturned by the tornado when most people aboard were sleeping. Only the captain and a few crew members who stayed awake reacted at the first moment and they managed to swim ashore, said the staff who refused to reveal more details.
She said the tragedy occurred so suddenly that few passengers was ready to put on the life jackets and it was too late to dock the ship.
The cruiser trip, organized by the Shanghai Xiehe tour agency, is designed for sightseeing along the Yangtze River. Calls to the agency went unanswered and reporters who went to the agency’s Nanjing office saw only a notice on the closed door.
Another passenger ship from Jiangxi set off at the same time as the Eastern Star. Its captain decided to dock at Chibi in view of the predicted severe convective weather. But the Eastern Star moved on to reach the next tourist site on Tuesday morning, the Chutian Metropolis Daily reported.
Wang Lingyu contributed to this story.