Yangtze ship disaster: Chinese salvagers right Eastern Star

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Media captionThe Chinese authorities tried to prevent the BBC filming a protest by relatives of the boat passengers

Chinese salvagers have fully righted the ship which capsized on the Yangtze River, on which more than 400 people are thought to have died.

The Eastern Star overturned late on Monday after being caught in a storm.

Just 14 of the 456 passengers and crew are known to have survived what looks set to be China's worst shipping disaster in more than 60 years of Communist rule.

Authorities say the chances of finding anyone still alive were "slim".

"In a situation in which the overall judgment is that there is no chance of people being alive, we could start the work of righting the boat," Transport Ministry Spokesperson Xu Chengguang had told reporters at a news conference on Thursday.

Why did cruise ship capsize?

Rescue workers on the upturned hull, which was just barely visible over the brown waters of the Yangtze, were towered over by two cranes.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Only three people have been rescued alive from inside the ship
Image copyright Rex Features
Image caption The ship's name was visible above the water on Friday morning
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The ship was held in place by cranes as it was turned over
Image copyright European Photopress Agency
Image caption The roof of the ship appears to be entirely crushed

Hooks were welded onto the ship and a net stretched around the entire structure in preparation for lifting it.

By first light on Friday, the ship could be seen lying on its side with its name visible just above the water. Xinhua state news agency later tweeted a picture of the righted vessel, its roof apparently crushed.

As the ship is righted, the focus of emergency workers at the site in Jianli, Hubei province will switch from attempting to find survivors to searching the ship's 150 cabins for bodies.

Mr Xu said on Friday that the next step was to raise the ship entirely above the water to conduct the search.

So far 97 bodies have been recovered, some after three holes were cut into the vessel's upturned hull. The holes were later welded closed in order to preserve the ship's buoyancy.

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Media captionGao Ruihai and his daughter Gao Yuan are struggling to cope with the unknown

Mr Xu said there had been no further signs of life inside the ship, Xinhua news agency reports.

He said officials would "absolutely not cover up anything" in the investigation, state media reports.

Chinese President Xi Jinping promised a thorough investigation into the cause of the disaster, after angry relatives protested at the scene.

Authorities tightly controlled access to the site, leading family members and journalists to complain about a lack of information.

The Eastern Star

Image copyright EPA
  • The 76m-long, 2,200-tonne ship was named Dongfangzhixing in Chinese
  • It was carrying 405 passengers - mostly elderly tourists but also 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).

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Questions raised over Eastern Star's sinking

Most of the 14 people known to have survived jumped from the ship as it began to sink. Three were rescued by divers from air pockets in the upturned hull.

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

The captain and chief engineer, who were among those who escaped, have since been detained.

Maritime agency records showed the ship was investigated for safety violations two years ago. It was held alongside five other vessels in 2013 over safety concerns.

China's deadliest maritime disaster in recent decades was in November 1999, when the Dashun ferry caught fire and capsized in the sea off Shandong province, killing about 280.

The Eastern Star could become China's deadliest boat accident since the SS Kiangya sank off Shanghai in 1948, killing somewhere between 2,750 and 4,000 people.

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