China assembles 60-strong team to probe deadly ship sinking

AP News
Posted: Jun 10, 2015 8:15 AM
China assembles 60-strong team to probe deadly ship sinking

BEIJING (AP) — China has assembled a team of 60 investigators to look into 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 as the ship 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 also have placed the surviving captain and his first engineer in police custody.

Extensive interviews have been conducted with surviving crew members, witnesses, those who designed and modified the ship and others, state broadcaster CCTV reported Wednesday. It said 60 specialists have been gathered for the investigative team.

Video footage and other evidence have been obtained from the ship, and weather, radar and other data was being analyzed 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. The actions of the captain in the final 12 minutes before the sinking have come under scrutiny, with reports saying he altered speed and course in an attempt to manage the pressure on the ship.

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DNA has been used to identify the remains, with more than 200 confirmed.

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 ship, which was righted and raised in a swift operation last week, has been moved to a location away from river shipping where it can be stabilized.