Death toll jumps to 396
as hopes of finding any
survivor in cruise fade

Updated: 2015-06-06 19:21


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Death toll jumps to 396<BR>as hopes of finding any<BR>survivor in cruise fade

Rescue workers enter the hoisted sunken cruise ship Eastern Star to search for hundreds of others still unaccounted for on June 5, 2015, 4 days after the vessel capsizes with more than 450 onboard. [Photo/Xinhua]

JIANLI, Hubei -- The death toll from the sinking of a Chinese cruise ship on the Yangtze River during freak weather climbed to 396 on Saturday, with some 40 still unaccounted for.

On Saturday morning, the body of the youngest victim, a three-year-old girl, was found on the fourth floor of the upturned ship, which was was righted and hoisted out of water on Friday.

Only 14 people survived the accident, and 46 people remain missing, according to the rescue headquarters in Jianli, central China's Hubei Province.

The 2,200-tonne Eastern Star was carrying 456 people on an 11-day trip along China's biggest river when it was capsized by a tornado near Jianli on Monday night.

Rescuers found six bodies after combing some 200 km of waterway downstream, Zhou Xuguang, commander of the Hubei Corps of the Chinese People's Armed Police Force, said during a press conference on Saturday afternoon.

All cabins on the ship have now been sterilized to prevent any possible outbreak of disease.

Zhang Shifeng with the Ministry of Civil Affairs, said on Saturday that families of the victims will be able pay tribute to the deceased in the vicinity of the accident site.

Local authorities have put the waters where the ship sank under traffic control indefinitely, said Xu Chengguang of the Ministry of Transport.

"We put the traffic control in place so as to better focus on salvage work," Xu said.

Meanwhile, rescuers are trying to shed load from the Eastern Star to help it float on water by itself, as mattresses, sofas and quilts that rolled to the left side of the ship have absorbed too much water, making it hard for the cruiser to stay float. The ship is currently held afloat by three floating cranes.

On Friday night, Jiang Zhao, legal representative of Chongqing Dongfang Shipping Company that owns the Eastern Star, apologized to all the victims and their families and promised to cooperate with any investigation.

In a sign of mourning, China's state and other major TV channels have suspended some programs from Saturday.

Jiangsu TV will halt all entertainment programs until Tuesday, including the hugely popular dating show "If you are the One," it announced via microblog on Saturday.

Programs or advertisements highlighting celebrations will also be withdrawn for the next three days.

State broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) will suspend the popular talent show "Xing Guang Da Dao" (Avenue of Stars). Media reports said an evening gala and a dance contest scheduled for Saturday night will be replaced by charity-related programs.

A Saturday comedy show produced by Dragon TV will also be postponed to another date.

The 76.5-meter vessel had been in service for nearly 20 years and can carry up to 534 people. It went through an annual maintenance in late 2014, and was qualified to cruise until April 25, 2016, according to Jiang.

More than 3,400 soldiers and 1,700 police together with 149 vessels and a helicopter have taken part in the search and rescue mission.