[BEIJING] Chinese Premier Li Keqiang ordered an investigation into why a cruise ship carrying more than 450 people capsized late Monday in the Yangtze river as rescuers continued the search for survivors.
Of those aboard, fourteen had been rescued and seven confirmed dead by early this morning, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. Most of the passengers were elderly, between the aged 50 to 80, according to the Hubei Daily newspaper. It may prove to be China's worst maritime accident in seven decades, Xinhua said.
Weather has so far been the only cause raised for the vessel's capsizing, with Xinhua citing the ship's captain and chief engineer, who were rescued, as saying that a tornado had stuck them. China's Meteorological Administration confirmed on Tuesday that a tornado, with level 12 winds on the Beaufort Wind scale, had hit the area at the same time as when the ship capsized, according to Xinhua.
Level 12 is the strongest classification of winds on the Beaufort scale. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration describes such conditions as "air filled with foam, waves over 45 feet, sea completely white with driving spray, visibility greatly reduced." The cruise ship, identified as the Eastern Star, was traveling westward to Chongqing from the city of Nanjing when it capsized in Jianli county in the central province of Hubei. Premier Li ordered the State Council, China's cabinet, to establish a team to investigate why the ship overturned, Xinhua reported on Wednesday. The captain and chief engineer have been detained and are being questioned, Xinhua reported yesterday.
Stories of the few rescued so far have filled Chinese media. Zhang Hui, a 43-year-old survivor, told Xinhua he floated more than 10 hours after being tossed from the ship. He recounted the wind and rain suddenly turning violent, flooding the ship before the vessel suddenly tipped, he said. Zhang, who can't swim, was saved by a life vest after being repeatedly swallowed by waves and unable to breath.
More than 4,600 people including hundreds of divers have been mobilized to search for survivors of the disaster amid bad weather, Xinhua said. Heavy rainfall is forecast today and tomorrow for the area with the possibility of thunderstorms and strong winds, according to China's weather agency.
One diver told the Changjiang Daily he found a young man trapped in an air pocket inside the ship panicked and in complete darkness. The diver lent the man his own air tank as the man was unable to use the emergency breathing equipment he brought.-