China rescue workers mourn boat capsizing victims

Death toll from last week's disaster in the Yangtze River stands at 431 with 11 people still missing.

    Rescue workers, soldiers and officials bowed their heads to honour the more than 430 people who died [AP]
    Rescue workers, soldiers and officials bowed their heads to honour the more than 430 people who died [AP]

    Chinese rescue workers have taken part in a mourning ceremony to honour the more than 430 victims of the Yangtze River capsizing.

    The ceremony on Sunday, which included soldiers and government officials, came as forensic teams began analysing DNA samples from relatives of those on the vessel to identify the dead.

    Chinese Transport Minister Yang Chuantang presided over the ceremony on the deck of a ship next to the Eastern Star, saying simply "please observe silence".

    Hundreds of members of the military, police and others took off their hats and bowed as vessels blared their horns. State broadcaster CCTV showed some relatives also bowing as they watched the event on television from where they were staying in nearby Jianli county.

    The toll from last Monday's overturning of the Eastern Star cruise ship rose to 431 dead with 11 people still missing, said Hu Kaihong, the vice director-general of the press bureau of the State Council Information Office, the Associated Press news agency reported.

    Fourteen people survived, including three pulled by divers from the overturned hull Tuesday.

    After the ship was pulled upright by cranes and thoroughly checked by Saturday, the search for additional bodies turned to the river downstream, Hu said.

    Authorities planned to expand the search from the Hubei province disaster site to as far east as Shanghai, more than 1,000km away.

    Sunday marked the seventh day of the tragedy, the first commemorative event in the Chinese cycle of mourning.

    'Freak storm'

    Authorities have attributed the overturning of the cruise ship late Monday to a freak storm with tornado-like winds, but also have placed the surviving captain and his first engineer in police custody.

    The boat had 456 people aboard, many of them elderly tourists, for a cruise from Nanjing to the southwestern city of Chongqing.

    Forensic teams were using DNA matching to identify the remains, but haven't said how long the process would take.

    Relatives of passengers have raised questions about whether the ship should have continued its voyage after the storm started in a section of Hubei province and despite a weather warning earlier in the evening.

    On Saturday night, relatives were taken by bus to an area just upriver of the now-righted ship, where they burned incense and tossed flowers into the Yangtze in memory of the dead.

    The Eastern Star disaster is the country's worst since the sinking of the SS Kiangya off Shanghai in 1948, which is believed to have killed anywhere from 2,750 to nearly 4,000 people.



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