More than 300 people remain unaccounted for as Chinese authorities continue their search for bodies after a cruise ship capsized in the Yangtze River. The known death toll has risen to 103, Reuters reported Friday, and only 14 survivors, including the ship’s captain, have been found. There were 456 people aboard the Eastern Star when it overturned on its voyage from Nanjing to Chongqing, leaving 339 people still unaccounted for in what is likely the country’s worst maritime disaster in 65 years.
Chinese authorities attributed the accident to sudden high winds just before 9:30 p.m. local time Monday, but also took the surviving captain and first engineer into police custody. Passengers' relatives have questioned whether the boat should have continued its journey after the storm began and despite a weather warning earlier in the evening, USA Today reported. So far, about 1,200 relatives have converged on Jianli county in Hubei province, where the disaster happened, according to Reuters. "My most important hope in coming here is still the same - to lay eyes on my mother," Zhang Junmin told the news agency.
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Reuters also noted that the Communist Party Politburo's Standing Committee, the top authority in China, called on local authorities to take measures to help grieving families and to "earnestly safeguard social stability."
Crews tried to find survivors by cutting through the ship’s hull, but those efforts proved unsuccessful. About 200 divers were searching, but muddy water, a strong current and debris piled up inside the boat made their job extremely tough.
The search for survivors has essentially been given up and turned to a search for bodies, the Washington Post reported.
Xu Chengguang, a Transport Ministry spokesman, said during a Thursday news conference there was no likelihood for more survivors to be found. “What makes us deeply, deeply regretful is that our search of the areas where there was possible presence of survivors didn’t yield any discovery, didn’t create a miracle,” he said, according to the Wall Street Journal. “With no likelihood of survivors, we can start the work of righting and lifting the ship.”
China has promised that there will be no “coverup” in the investigation of why the ship capsized suddenly on Monday while on an 11-day cruise up Asia’s longest river.