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China boat death toll nears 400

Published 06/06/2015

Medical workers make preparations near the capsized Eastern Star ship, as it is lifted by cranes on the Yangtze River (AP)
Medical workers make preparations near the capsized Eastern Star ship, as it is lifted by cranes on the Yangtze River (AP)

The death toll in the Eastern Star river boat tragedy has risen to nearly 400, making it China's worst maritime disaster in decades.

Rescue teams have now stabilised the cruiser in an upright position in the search for more bodies after the vessel capsized in the Yangtze River.

Although the ship is said to have overturned on Monday thanks to sudden, severe winds, the captain and his first engineer have both been held in police custody.

Passengers' relatives have raised questions about whether the ship should have continued its cruise after the storm started in a section of Hubei province, despite a weather warning earlier in the evening.

Heavy rains in the Yangtze area over four days from Monday have also killed 15 people and left eight others missing, the ministry of civil affairs said.

Hundreds more bodies from the Eastern Star were found overnight, bringing the death toll to 396, officials said.

The boat had more than 450 people aboard, many of them elderly tourists enjoying a cruise from Nanjing to the south-western city of Chongqing.

Fourteen people survived the capsizing, including three pulled out of air pockets in the overturned hull by divers on Tuesday.

Disaster teams placed chains around the hull and used cranes to roll the boat upright and then gradually lift it out of the currents of the Yangtze on Friday.

China's deadliest maritime disaster in recent times involved the Dashun ferry, which caught fire and capsized off Shandong province in November 1999, killing about 280 people.

Rescuers at the scene of the capsized Eastern Star cruise ship in Jianli, central China's Hubei province on June 4, 2015. AFP/Getty Images
Rescuers at the scene of the capsized Eastern Star cruise ship in Jianli, central China's Hubei province on June 4, 2015. AFP/Getty Images
Workers prepare a crane to lift upright the capsized cruise ship in the Yangtze River in Jianli county in southern China's Hubei province Thursday, June 4, 2015. Rescuers cut three holes into the overturned hull of the river cruise ship in unsuccessful attempts to find more survivors Thursday. (Chinatopix Via AP) CHINA OUT
Rescue workers carry a body recovered from a capsized cruise ship in the Yangtze River in Jianli county in southern China's Hubei province Thursday, June 4, 2015. Rescuers cut three holes into the overturned hull of the river cruise ship in unsuccessful attempts to find more survivors Thursday. (Chinatopix Via AP) CHINA OUT
TOPSHOTS This photo taken on June 3, 2015 shows rescuers carrying the bodies of the victims of the capsized Chinese cruise ship walking on the riverbank in Jianli, central China's Hubei province. Relatives of more than 400 people missing after the cruise ship "Eastern Star" capsized on China's Yangtze river gathered at the disaster site on June 4, as rescuers breached the hull in a last-ditch search for more than 400 people believed trapped inside. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTOSTR/AFP/Getty Images
A woman (3rd L), who's father was on the capsized passenger ship carrying more than 450 people which sunk in the Yangtze river triggering a rescue effort hampered by strong winds and heavy rain, arrives at a registration checkpoint for relatives coming into Jianli, in China's Hubei province on June 4, 2015. The ship named Dongfangzhixing, or "Eastern Star", was headed from the eastern city of Nanjing to the southwestern city of Chongqing when it sank in the Jianli section of the river. AFP PHOTO / JOHANNES EISELEJOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images
A woman (L) and her husband (L), who's father was on the capsized passenger ship carrying more than 450 people which sunk in the Yangtze river triggering a rescue effort hampered by strong winds and heavy rain, arrive at a registration checkpoint for relatives coming into Jianli in China's Hubei province on June 4, 2015. The ship named Dongfangzhixing, or "Eastern Star", was headed from the eastern city of Nanjing to the southwestern city of Chongqing when it sank in the Jianli section of the river. AFP PHOTO / JOHANNES EISELEJOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images
This photo taken on June 3, 2015 shows rescuers carrying the bodies of the victims of the capsized Chinese cruise ship walking on the riverbank in Jianli, central China's Hubei province. Relatives of more than 400 people missing after the cruise ship "Eastern Star" capsized on China's Yangtze river gathered at the disaster site on June 4, as rescuers breached the hull in a last-ditch search for more than 400 people believed trapped inside. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTOSTR/AFP/Getty Images
ZHUJI, CHINA - JUNE 03: (CHINA OUT) Students light candles and pray for victims of the capsized ship Dongfangzhixing at a high school on June 3, 2015 in Zhuji, China. Fourteen people have been rescued and seven are confirmed dead after a passenger ship named Dongfangzhixing (Eastern Star) carrying 458 people sank in the Jianli (Hubei Province) section of the Yangtze River on Monday. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images)

The Eastern Star disaster could become the country's worst since the sinking of the SS Kiangya off Shanghai in 1948, which is believed to have killed anywhere from 2,750 to nearly 4,000 people.

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