China has assembled a 60-member team to investigate the country’s worst boat disaster in over six decades that was survived by only 14 people, the Associated Press (AP) reported Wednesday. The Eastern Star cruise ship capsized in the Yangtze River in central China on June 1, leaving 442 people dead or missing.
President Xi Jinping has demanded a probe into the accident, which is being counted among China's worst maritime disasters. The 60-strong special investigative team has been conducting interviews with surviving crew members, witnesses, and those who designed and modified the ship, state broadcaster CCTV reported Wednesday, according to AP.
Authorities believe that the ship, which was traveling from Nanjing to Chongqing, reportedly went under after being hit by a tornado, and Chinese meteorological officials said last week that a Force 12 cyclone had hit the area on the day the ship capsized.
However, the incident has raised several questions as some local media and experts have questioned how a four-story, 76.5-meter cruise ship could overturn in about a minute -- only a few dozen meters from the riverbank -- leaving the crew no time to raise the alarm, and trapping the mostly elderly passengers on board. The ship’s captain and first engineer, who survived the disaster, are being questioning over the incident in police custody.
On Wednesday, the damaged Eastern Star was moved about 6 miles upstream from the accident site to avoid further damage to the vessel, Xinhua News reported. On Monday, rescue workers had righted the cruise ship, and a search to locate more victims is ongoing. Rescuers have also collected over 320 items from the ship and surrounding areas, and have asked the victims' families to collect them at a funeral parlor in Jianli County in Hubei province.
Meanwhile, forensic teams are using DNA samples from the victims' families to identify the remains, and according to AP, over 200 matches have so far been made.