60-strong team deloyed to probe Yangtze shipwreck

China has assembled a team of 60 investigators to look into the Yangtze River cruise ship sinking to find the cause of the country's worst maritime disaster in nearly seven decades.

Only 14 people survived the capsizing of the Eastern Star on the evening of June 1 when the ship carrying 456 people, many of them elderly tourists, was on a cruise trip from Nanjing to 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.

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.

The team, led by the head of the State Administration of Work Safety, includes senior officials from the ministries of transport, industry and information technology, public security, civil affairs and water resources. It also includes senior officials from the China Meteorological Administration, Hubei province and Chongqing, and experts on law and meteorology.

The work safety administration said the probe is continuing with interviews, analysis of ship and weather conditions, and collection evidence. The statement said that video footage and other evidence has been collected from the ship, and that weather radar and other data are being analyzed.

"The reason behind the sinking is very complicated and has to be determined after scientific identification and necessary simulating experiments," the administration said in a statement.

Also on Wednesday, the China Insurance Regulatory Commission said more than 92 million yuan ($15.7 million) in compensation will be paid to the relevant parties, including the victims' families.

As of Wednesday morning, rescuers had identified 323 items retrieved from the ship. Authorities said family members can collect these items if they provide proper ID documents.


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