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Tribute to capsized ship victims

Published 07/06/2015

Medical workers prepare to get into the capsized Eastern Star ship after being lifted by cranes on the Yangtze River (AP)
Medical workers prepare to get into the capsized Eastern Star ship after being lifted by cranes on the Yangtze River (AP)

Nearby ships blared horns for three minutes and rescuers bowed in silence to honour more than 430 victims of the Yangtze River capsizing, as specialists began working on DNA samples from relatives to identify the dead.

The toll from last Monday's overturning of the Eastern Star cruise ship rose to 431 dead with 11 people still missing, said Hu Kaihong, the vice director-general of the press bureau of the State Council Information Office. Fourteen people survived, including three pulled by divers from the overturned hull Tuesday.

After the ship was pulled upright by cranes and thoroughly checked by yesterday, the search for additional bodies turned to the river downstream, Mr Hu said.

Authorities planned to expand the search from the Hubei province disaster site to as far east as Shanghai, more than 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) away.

Transport minister Yang Chuantang presided over the ceremony on the deck of a ship next to the Eastern Star, saying simply "please observe silence".

Hundreds of members of the military, police and others took off their hats and bowed as vessels blared their horns. State broadcaster CCTV showed some relatives also bowing as they watched the event on television from where they were staying in nearby Jianli county.

Today marked the seventh day of the tragedy, the first commemorative event in the Chinese cycle of mourning.

Authorities have attributed the overturning of the cruise ship late last Monday to a freak storm with tornado-like winds, but also have placed the surviving captain and his first engineer in police custody.

The boat had 456 people aboard, many of them elderly tourists, for a cruise from Nanjing to the southwestern city of Chongqing.

Wang Hua, who lost her father and mother aboard the ship, described the couple as having been happily enjoying their retirement. Her 77-year-old father, a former judge, made sure they traveled each year and had been all around mainland China and to Taiwan.

"They were just ordinary people. Their biggest concern was causing trouble for others," Ms Wang said.

Frequently breaking down in tears, Ms Wang added she had yet to tell her nine-year-old son about the deaths of his grandparents, with whom he was extremely close. She said friends and family were looking after him for now and shielding him from television and newspaper reports - not an easy task given the blanket coverage it has received in the Chinese media.

"I'll let nature take its course. When he asks, I'll tell him," Ms Wang said.

Forensic teams were using DNA matching to identify the remains, but have not said how long the process would take.

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

Last night, relatives were taken by bus to an area just upriver of the now-righted ship, where they burned incense and tossed flowers into the Yangtze in memory of the dead.

The Eastern Star disaster is 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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