China assembles 60-strong team to probe Yangtze ship sinking

  • AP, Beijing
  • Updated: Jun 10, 2015 15:19 IST

China has assembled a 60-strong team to probe last week's river cruise ship sinking following orders from President Xi Jinping to find the cause of the country's worst maritime disaster in nearly seven decades.

Just 14 people survived the capsizing of the Eastern Star on the evening of June 1 amid heavy rain and wind as it was carrying 456 people, many of them elderly tourists, on a cruise to the Yangtze River port of Chongqing.

Authorities have attributed the sinking to a freak storm that generated tornado-like winds, but have also placed the surviving captain and his first engineer in police custody.

Extensive interviews have been conducted with the surviving crew members, witnesses, those who designed and modified the ship and others, state broadcaster CCTV reported on Wednesday.

Sixty specialists have been gathered for the investigative team, the report said.

Video footage and other evidence has been obtained from the ship, while weather, radar and other data was being analysed for indications of what went wrong.

The disaster left 442 people dead or missing.

Passengers' relatives have raised questions about whether the ship should have continued its voyage despite a weather warning after the storm started in a river section in the Hubei province.

The actions of the captain in the final 12 minutes before the sinking have also come under scrutiny, with reports saying he altered speed and course in an attempt to manage the pressure on the ship.

Forensic teams have been using DNA samples from relatives to identify the remains even as more than 200 matches have been made.

Along with the weather, investigators are expected to focus on alternations carried out on the ship in 1997 that lengthened it and may have altered its center of gravity, according to a report this week in the official newspaper Beijing News.

The remains of the ship, which was righted and raised in a swift operation last week, has been shifted to a new site away from river shipping where it can be stabilised.

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