Death toll climbs to 82 in China ferry disaster

Chinese rescue workers removing the body of a victim from the Chinese cruise ship which capsized in the Yangtze river.
STR | AFP | Getty Images
Chinese rescue workers removing the body of a victim from the Chinese cruise ship which capsized in the Yangtze river.

The death toll from a Chinese cruise ship that capsized on the Yangtze River has climbed to 82, state media said on Friday, as authorities began righting the vessel and said there was no chance of finding anyone else alive.

The rescue mission has become an operation to recover hundreds of bodies from the ship, which was carrying 456 people when it overturned in a freak tornado on Monday night. Only 14 survivors have been found, including the captain.

"In a situation in which the overall judgement is that there is no chance of people being alive, we could start the work of righting the boat," transport ministry spokesman Xu Chengguang told a news conference late on Thursday.

Rescuers, many from the military, worked through the night to right the ship. Pictures on state television showed the ship, which had capsized completely, now lying on its side.

More than 200 divers have groped through murky water after cutting through the hull, searching every cabin on board, but have found no more survivors.

The weather is expected to improve on Friday, after days of heavy rain, which should help rescuers.

"We are already mentally prepared," said a 33-year-old woman surnamed Gao, whose 58-year-old mother was on board the ship.

Underscoring the sensitivity of the disaster, the ruling Communist Party's Politburo Standing Committee, China's apex of power, called on local authorities to take measures to help grieving families and to "earnestly safeguard social stability".

Some family members have expressed anger at the scarcity of information, and many have come to Jianli county in Hubei province where the incident happened.

Hundreds of people, their eyes brimming with tears, knelt in the centre of a square in Jianli city on Thursday night clutching candles and flowers.

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Hu Kaihong, a government spokesman, told a news briefing there were now more than 1,200 family members in Jianli.

Relatives have asked the government to release the names of survivors and the 82 confirmed deaths so far, and questioned why most of those rescued were crew members.

Some have demanded to know why the boat did not dock in the storm, and how the rescued captain and crew members had time to put on life vests but did not sound any alarm.

Beijing has pledged that there would be "no cover-up" of an investigation.

Police have detained the captain and chief engineer for questioning. An initial investigation found the ship was not overloaded and had enough life vests on board.