434 bodies recovered from sunken ship, man also survives quake

The death toll from the Yangtze shipwreck rose to 434 on Monday, with another eight still missing, authorities said.

The capsized Eastern Star cruise ship will be moved to allow divers to search for victims at the site.

All cabins were sealed on Monday as rescuers had thoroughly combed the ship and failed to spot more bodies, news site thepaper.cn reported.

Yu Zhengwei (right) survives the ship disaster. Photo: China Water Transport

Only 14 people survived the disaster. Yu Zhengwei, a vendor on the capsized ship Eastern Star, survived not only the cruise tragedy that claimed the lives of more than 400, but also the Wenchuan earthquake that left more than 80,000 dead in 2008.

According to Yu, his wife and he had a contract with the ship company to sell food and snacks on the vessel. They had worked on the ship for three trips before but this time the disaster struck.

At the night of the accident on June 1, which incidentally happened to be his 44 birthday, Yu went on the deck to collect his clothes he had left there to dry when heavy storm and rain hit the ship. Suddenly the vessel leaned sharply and he was thrown away.

Luckily, he was able to grab a life buoy and held on to it tightly until he was found seven hours later.

Yu went back to Chongqing while his two relatives stayed in Jianli for any news about his wife.

It's unclear why the Eastern Star was the only ship on the busy waterway so badly affected by the storm.

Industry insiders and ship inspectors said that modifications to the hull of the ill-fated Eastern Star cruise ship could have made it more difficult for passengers to escape, The Beijing News reported on Monday.

Chongqing Dongfang Shipping Company, which operates the Eastern Star and four other cruise ships on the Yangtze River, began to modify the Eastern Star in 1997, increasing the ship's length from 66 meters to 76.5 meters and sharpening the bow to reduce air resistance, The Beijing News reported on Monday.

The newspaper has questioned if the modification to the hull had made it harder for passengers to escape.

The paper cited insiders and ship inspectors, who revealed that modifying the vessel made its center of gravity unstable and increased the risk of being capsized.

A company insider said metal bunk beds fixed in the cabins were replaced with movable wooden beds while windows along the gunwales substituted for doors.

The original structure enabled passengers to escape, the insider explained.

Media also claimed that all those who managed to escape got out of the ship through the windows. Liu Deyi (pseudonym), who witnessed the entire construction process and trial sail of the vessel, added that the movable beds also made the ship capsize faster.


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