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China orders sunken ship operator to check safety as toll mounts

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The operator of a river cruise ship that capsized with more than 450 people aboard was ordered to fix safety issues, the first sign that authorities suspect inadequate precautions contributed to the disaster.

[SHANGHAI] The operator of a river cruise ship that capsized with more than 450 people aboard was ordered to fix safety issues, the first sign that authorities suspect inadequate precautions contributed to the disaster.

The official Xinhua News Agency said 14 people have been rescued and 75 are confirmed dead after the ferry capsized in poor weather Monday night on the Yangtze River. Attempts to cut open the ship's hull and repeated dives yielded no word on the 360 missing passengers.

Local transportation authorities ordered the ship's operator, Chongqing Dongfang Lunchuan Co, to do a thorough safety check and suspend operating a second vessel of the same make, Xinhua reported. Two calls to company spokesman Wang Jianhua went unanswered.

The sinking may be China's worst maritime disaster in decades and tops a list of recent public safety incidents that turned deadly. Earlier government officials broadcast on state television cited only stormy weather and a freak tornado as possible causes.

The Eastern Star was traveling west along the Yangtze river to Chongqing from the city of Nanjing. The ship, which could carry as many as 534 people, was built in 1994 and had a operational life of about 30 years.

Chinese President Xi Jinping called for a "serious investigation" into the reasons for the accident during a meeting of the Standing Committee of the Politburo, Xinhua reported. Premier Li Keqiang had earlier ordered a Cabinet-level investigation, Xinhua reported.

The ship's captain and chief engineer, both who survived the sinking, have been detained and are being questioned, Xinhua reported on Tuesday.

Most of the missing passengers were elderly, according to the Hubei Daily newspaper. A passenger list posted on the Nanjing-based oriental Guardian newspaper's microblog showed at least three children were on board.

More than 1,200 relatives of passengers have arrived in Jianli county where the accident occurred, CCTV said. Reuters reported earlier that frustrated family members who had come seeking more information broke through a police cordon around the disaster site.

BLOOMBERG