China on Sunday held a solemn mourning ceremony for the victims of its worst shipping disaster in 70 years that killed at least 431 people in the mighty Yangtze River, even as grief-stricken relatives demanded an impartial probe and punishment for the guilty.
Only 14 people have been found alive, while another 11 people remain missing, according to the rescue headquarters in Jianli, central China’s Hubei Province.
The solemn ceremony was held in remembrance of those who died and were still missing after the 2,200-tonne Eastern Star cruise ship carrying 456 people on an 11-day trip capsized on June 1 in the Yangtze River in a storm.
Ship horns wailed as hundreds of people stood at the accident site and observed a three-minute silence after the ship was lifted with the help of the huge cranes.
Over 1,400 relatives of the deceased passengers joined the mourning for their dear ones at the event attended by China’s transport minister Yang Chuantang.
Rescue workers in white hooded surgical suits could be seen on board ship, while others in work gear, orange safety vests and military-style fatigues formed columns on the decks of massive crane vessels that raised the ill-fated ship.
According to Chinese tradition, the seventh day after one’s death is an occasion for the deceased’s relatives to mourn the passing of their loved one.
Many of the grieving relatives today protested at the site of the crash, demanding answers from the government and an impartial probe into the cause of the accident.
“Our family is already gone. As relatives, we are still waiting for the final result of the government’s investigation,” said a woman from Nanjing, whose 65-year-old father Wang Chuanyu had boarded the ship with friends.
“Relevant state [departments] must investigate those who should be investigated, hold responsible those who should be held responsible and punish those who should be punished.”
Family members also refused to accept the apology of Jiang Zhao, the legal representative of the Chongqing Eastern Shipping Corporation, which owns the ill-fated vessel.
Jiang had apologised in front of the media on Friday evening, describing the accident as “a catastrophe to the company” and promised to cooperate with any investigation.
But a family member from Changzhou, Jiangsu province, said: “It was merely formalism. He did not even say what his company had done wrong.”
The Eastern Star tragedy is China’s worst shipping disaster in more than 60 years of Communist rule.
Anywhere from 2,750 to nearly 4,000 people had died when SS Kiangya capsized off Shanghai in 1948.