A cruise ship sailing down the Yangtze River from Nanjing to Chongqing capsized Monday night after encountering a violent storm consisting of heavy rain, high winds, and possibly a tornado. The Eastern Star or Oriental Star, depending on how the ship’s name is translated, was carrying 456 passengers, and now, approximately 43 hours after the vessel first flipped, there are only 14 known survivors. Seven passengers have been confirmed dead, leaving 437 people unaccounted for, most of whom are senior citizens.
The death toll will almost certainly increase substantially over the coming hours, and currently there is some confusion over the exact number of people who were on board. The New York Times is reporting the 456-person figure, and indicated that this number is two less than original reports indicated. Meanwhile, CNN is reporting that “more than 458 people” were aboard the vessel. Obviously, these figures are vitally important, and they are no doubt the object of intense scrutiny for the families of the missing and rescue officials.
At present, a frantic and massive search is underway. Divers are exploring the upturned ship and river for survivors, and rescue workers on top of the hull, the only part of the ship not submerged in water, are cutting holes through the exterior in an attempt to reach anyone who might still be alive and trapped inside. More than 1,000 police officers spread across 40 inflatable boats are taking part in the rescue efforts as well.
The vast majority of the passengers on board the ship are between the ages of 50 and 80 year old, although there are younger passengers as well, including a three year old. There were 47 crew members on board, and at least two of them, the captain and the chief engineer, have been rescued. Both are currently in police custody for questioning.
This most recent shipwreck darkly echoes the sinking of the Sewol, the South Korean ferry. The disaster, which occurred about 13 months ago, ultimately claimed more than 300 lives, and the captain of the vessel was sentenced to 36 years in prison for his role in the wreck. Unless many more people who were aboard the Yangtze River vessel are rescued, Monday’s shipwreck could prove even deadlier.