A total of 331 people have been confirmed dead after rescuers lifted a Chinese cruise ship that capsized in central China out of the water, state media reported Saturday.
Just 14 people have been confirmed alive out of the 456 — mostly tourists aged over 60 — on board when the “Eastern Star” rapidly sunk on the Yangtze river in a storm on Monday.
Authorities gave the a death toll of 331 as of 08:00 am (0000 GMT) Saturday, the state-run Xinhua news agency said, in what looks likely to be China`s worst shipping disaster in nearly 70 years.
State-broadcaster CCTV had said the confirmed death toll at 2:30 am was 154, suggesting that more than 150 bodies were discovered overnight.
Xinhua earlier gave the total of confirmed dead as 345, but then revised it down to 331. An official said on Thursday that no new survivors are expected to be found.
Rescuers used massive cranes Thursday night to right the ship at the site of the disaster in Hubei province`s Jianli county. Huge cranes began lifting the ship from the site of its capsize on Friday, and its battered blue and white body emerged completely from the water, allowing rescuers to search inside.
Reports citing witnesses said the 76.5 metre long (250 feet) and 2,200 tonne ship overturned in under a minute, and weather officials said a freak tornado hit the area at the time.
The vessel was cited for safety infractions two years ago, according to a notice by the Nanjing Maritime Bureau, but no further details have been given about the state of the ship. Information about the sinking and media access to the site have been tightly controlled, and any online criticism of the search operation quickly doused.
Relatives of those on board clashed with police earlier this week, and angry scenes occurred at an official press conference in Jianli on Friday.
“What we have received are the words, selected wisely, which are full of untruths,” an elderly relative who sneaked into the briefing told reporters, before officials escorted her away. Local reports said other ships in the vicinity had dropped anchor after a warning of heavy storms, but the Eastern Star continued on.