Divers race to find survivors in capsized Chinese ship on Yangtze River | News | DW | 02.06.2015
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Divers race to find survivors in capsized Chinese ship on Yangtze River

Rescuers have pulled at least three survivors from a cruise ship which capsized on China's Yangtze River. Rescuers are trying to reach more than 400 people still believed trapped; the captain is in police custody.

Chinese media on Tuesday broadcast images of rescue workers wearing orange life vests tapping on the upturned hull of the "Eastern Star," listening for sounds from passengers still trapped inside.

Chinese news agencies reported that between 13 and 18 people had so far survived. Some of them had swum to shore; others were rescued from the partially submerged ship. Those saved by divers included a 65-year-old woman. At least five bodies had been recovered, state media said.

They reported that 458 people - many of them elderly tourists - were aboard the ship when it went down during a trip from Nanjing to the southwestern city of Chongqing on Monday night.

More than 50 boats and 3,000 people were reported to be taking part in rescue efforts, battling strong wind and heavy rain. Chinese President Xi Jinping had ordered a special team to rush to the site and guide rescue work and called for "all-out rescue efforts," China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang traveled to the site.

Captain, engineer questioned

Xinhua reported the ship's captain and chief engineer, who were both rescued, as saying the ship was caught in a cyclone and sank quickly.

A woman is helped after being pulled out by divers from a sunken ship in Jianli, Hubei province, China, June 2, 2015.

Divers pulled this woman from the ship

The two men were in police custody. State media reported the ship overturned in the space of about two minutes, at 9.28 p.m. local time (1328 UTC) Monday in the Jianli region of central Hubei province.

According to CCTV, the 77-meter-long (250-foot) ship had floated about 3 kilometers (2 miles) down the 15-meter-deep river since then.

The fact the upturned ship could float was a good sign for rescuers, said Chi-Mo Park, a professor of naval architecture and ocean engineering at South Korea's Ulsan University, because it meant there was enough air inside to give it buoyancy, so there would be enough air pockets for survivors to be in.

"It all depends how much space there is inside the vessel," Park said.

CCTV reported the ship was carrying 406 Chinese passengers, five travel agency employees and 47 crew members, with most on board between 50 and 80 years of age. Passengers' relatives had begun to gather at the Shanghai travel agency which was involved in organizing the cruise. The "Eastern Star" had the capacity to carry more than 500 people. The last major maritime disaster on the Yangtze occurred in January when 22 people died in a tugboat sinking.

se/jr (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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