China boat capsize: Relatives stage angry protest

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Media captionThere is a lot of anger where the relatives are just sitting waiting for news of their loved ones, says the BBC's Celia Hatton

Relatives of some of the nearly 400 people missing after a cruise ship capsized on China's Yangtze River have staged a protest near the sinking site.

Dozens of people broke through police cordons at the river in Jianli, Hubei province, demanding more information.

State media say 65 people are now confirmed to have died when the Eastern Star overturned in a storm on Monday.

Rescue workers battling heavy rain have cut into the hull of the upturned vessel so divers can search inside.

But no-one has been pulled out alive since Tuesday's dramatic rescues.

Image copyright AP
Image caption A crane is in place to stabilise the upturned ship during the rescue operation

Only 14 of the 456 passengers are known to have escaped. The official death toll leapt on Thursday morning after divers retrieved 39 more bodies overnight.

But officials say they are not giving up hope.

"The ship sank in a very short time frame, so there could still be air trapped in the hull," Li Qixiu of the Naval University of Engineering told the state news agency Xinhua.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The organisers of the protest said they wanted to make their concerns visible to the government

Analysis: Celia Hatton, BBC News, Beijing

China's leaders are taking pains to show they will do everything possible to support search efforts. President Xi Jinping released a statement just hours after the news hit Chinese media. He promised "all-out rescue efforts" to find survivors.

The country's second-in-command, Premier Li Keqiang, rushed to the scene to personally direct rescue operations. In many other countries, it would be unusual to see such a high-ranking politician get so involved, but in China, that has become the norm.

But at the ground level, family members of the missing say they're being ignored by local officials.

The relatives are furious that no-one is providing detailed information about the rescue efforts. Hundreds are sequestered in a nearby hotel lobby, watching the same repetitive state television reports available to the rest of the country.

Questions raised over Eastern Star's sinking

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The relatives say they have had little information about what happened to their loved ones on board

Scores of relatives of the passengers have travelled to Jianli to be near the wreck, many from Nanjing where the cruise began in late May. Officials have set up contact centres for them in local hotels.

The families have raised questions about the disaster, including how the ship could have sank so quickly, and why no alarm was raised.

On Wednesday night, several dozen pushed through police lines set up to control access to the site, then marched towards the river.

But organiser Wang Feng told Reuters: "This isn't going to be much use, we're just doing this for the government to see."

Officials have now promised to take them to the rescue site on Thursday.

Another group of relatives staged a protest in Shanghai, where the tour company most passengers had booked through, Xiehe Travel, is based.

Videos on social media showed them jostling with police as they gathered in the city's People's Square demanding more information.

Ji Guoxin, whose parents were still missing, said Xiehe Travel had just given them a hotline number and told them to make their own way to Jianli.

Another protester told reporters: "We want somebody from the local government to receive us and tell all family members what we should do."

Image copyright AP
Image caption A total of 65 bodies have now been recovered - these rescue workers were observing a moment's silence for some of the victims

The cause of the sinking is not yet known, but survivors have spoken of an intense storm which flipped the boat in minutes.

The captain and chief engineer were among those who escaped - they were detained.

Maritime agency records which emerged on Wednesday showed the ship was investigated for safety violations two years ago. It was held alongside five other vessels in 2013 over safety concerns, although no further details are available.

The Eastern Star

Image copyright Reuters
  • The 76m-long, 2,200 tonne ship was named Dongfangzhixing in Chinese
  • It was carrying 405 passengers - mostly elderly tourists but one three-year-old - as well as five travel agency employees and 46 crew members.
  • The ship is owned by the Chongqing Eastern Shipping Corporation, and passengers had booked their trip through a travel agency in Shanghai.
  • The cruise left the eastern city of Nanjing in April and was travelling to Chongqing in the south-west via the Three Gorges - a journey of at least 1,500km (930 miles).

Yangtze River tragedy on trip of a lifetime

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