Rescue workers have righted the cruise ship that capsized Monday in central China's Yangtze River while carrying over 456 people. Meanwhile, officials reportedly confirmed the death toll from the disaster has reached 97.
Xu Chengguang, a spokesman for China's Ministry of Transport, said at a press conference, cited by Xinhua, that by 10:20 a.m. local time Friday (10:20 p.m. EDT Thursday), 97 bodies had been retrieved from the vessel. Only 14 people, including the ship's captain, are known to have survived. The 76.5-meter cruise ship was carrying 406, mainly elderly, passengers when it went down in bad weather. Xu added that no further signs of life have been found, and that the chance of finding anyone else alive was "very slim."
Footage broadcast by China's state-run CCTV showed rescue workers using large floating cranes to right the stricken vessel, which photographs now show as being right-way-up, but sitting almost entirely below the waterline. Rescue workers were attempting to drain water from the inside of the ship to make it float, according to local media reports. As the ship is righted, the focus of emergency workers -- at the site in Jianli, Hubei province -- will switch from attempting to find survivors to searching the ship's 150 cabins for bodies, according to a BBC report.
China's leaders have been keen to be personally associated with the rescue effort, with state media reporting that Premier Li Keqiang was personally directing the operation, while President Xi Jinping called for an “all-out effort,” and pledging a thorough investigation into the causes of the accident.
The country's leadership is particularly sensitive to public concern surrounding the event, as confidence in government investigations of disasters in the country is low, eroded by several incidents in recent years where authorities attempted to cover up the scale of accidents, and curtail independent media coverage and social media reaction. Although the ship's captain and chief engineer were among the survivors, and both have been detained by authorities, the narrative of the event being played out on state-run media has thus far focused on weather, rather than human error, as the likely cause of the accident.
“It’s a natural disaster, not caused by human error; the rescue is difficult but the rescue team tried their best,” Zhan Jiang, a journalism professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University, told the Los Angeles Times. “Don’t show any footage of the pain of families. The two naval divers [who rescued people from the ship] are the heroes.”