Asia-Pacific News

China boat death toll exceeds 400, victims mourned

Chinese rescue workers pay there respect to the victims during a memorial service in front of the raised Chinese cruise ship, in Jianli on June 7, 2015

The death toll from a Chinese cruise ship which capsized during a storm in the Yangtze River reached 406 on Sunday, leaving fewer than 40 still missing, as officials and rescuers bowed in mourning towards the battered boat.

Only 14 survivors, one of them the captain, have been found after the ship carrying 456 overturned in a freak tornado on Monday night in Jianli in Hubei province. Most of the passengers were elderly tourists.

The four-storied ship was righted and raised on Friday, allowing rescuers onto it to clear away debris, break down cabin doors and look for the remaining missing.

Sunday marks seven days since the Eastern Star went down, and according to Chinese tradition this a key date on which to mourn the dead.

State television showed rescue workers and government officials standing on the deck of a barge facing the Eastern Star, removing their hats and bowing their heads, as surrounding boats sounded their horns.

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Families members are also expected to gather on the river banks for ceremonies.

The company which operated the ship has already apologized for the disaster.

Jiang Zhao, general manager of the company which operated the Eastern Star, bowed in apology for the disaster during an interview with state television broadcast on Saturday, saying they would "fully" cooperate with the investigation.

Beijing has pledged there would be "no cover-up" in the probe. Police have detained the captain and chief engineer for questioning as part of the investigation. An initial probe found the ship was not overloaded and had enough life vests on board.

The disaster has now caused a higher toll than the sinking of a ferry in South Korea in April 2014 that killed 304 people, most of them children on a school trip. It is also China's worst shipping catastrophe in seven decades. More than 1,400 family members have come to Jianli, with many expressing frustration at the lack of information from the government.

The government says that it is doing everything possible to help the relatives, including providing free accommodation and medical services.