Rescue teams at the site of a capsized Chinese cruise ship on the Yangtze River have recovered dozens of bodies. With chances of finding survivors slim, efforts are now turning to righting the boat's hull.
Chinese authorities were expected to begin the difficult task of pulling the stricken cruise ship upright late Thursday night to speed up the search for victims.
Righting the hull will allow rescuers to "search for the missing persons in the shortest possible time and give maximum protection to the dignity of the deceased," state news agency Xinhua said, citing a transport ministry official.
Two large cranes at the site will be used to lift the ship, while a massive net has been installed downstream on the fast-flowing Yangtze to catch any bodies.
A total of 75 bodies have so far been recovered from the wreck of the Eastern Star. The 77-meter (251-foot) vessel was traveling from the eastern city of Nanjing to southeastern Chongqing with more than 450 people, mostly elderly tourists, on board when it capsized in a freak storm on Monday night.
More than 360 of those passengers are still missing. Only 14 survivors, including the ship's captain and chief engineer, have been found.
Earlier on Thursday, officials cut a number of holes in the boat's overturned hull in an unsuccessful last-ditch attempt to find more survivors. Dozens of divers had also been working around the clock to search each of the ship's cabins for signs of life.
'No cover up'
Meanwhile, China's president, Xi Jinping, on Thursday convened a special meeting of the ruling Communist Party's Politburo Standing Committee, the country's highest power, to discuss the disaster.
The committee called on rescuers to "take all possible measures" to save the injured and urged a "serious investigation into the cause of the incident."
A spokesman for the transport ministry said officials had already started interviewing rescued crew members and "gathering evidence." The ship's captain and chief engineer have been handed over to police for questioning.
"We will never shield mistakes and we'll absolutely not cover up [anything]," spokesman Xu Chengguang said.
Jianli residents join worried family members to pray for those who were aboard the Eastern Star when in sank
Frustrated family members
Heavy security has blocked off the site of the sunken vessel, prompting distraught family members to congregate in the nearby town of Jianli to wait for news about their loved ones.
In the town's center, locals joined relatives in laying candles and flowers for the cruise ship's victims. Many have called on the government to start releasing the names of the dead and the survivors.
"We just want an early resolution to this tragedy," said a 57-year-old woman surnamed Li. "We feel so devastated."
Some relatives have also questioned why the boat did not dock and wait the storm out, or whether the crew did everything possible to save the passengers.
nm/kms (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)