Cruise victims honoured with three-minute silence

Nearby ships blared horns for three minutes yesterday and rescuers bowed in silence to honour the more than 430 victims of the Yangtze River capsizing.

Soldiers and rescue workers pay their respects to victims during a memorial service in front of the Chinese cruise ship in Jianli. Picture: AFP

Specialists have begun working on DNA samples from relatives to identify the dead.

The toll from last Monday’s overturning of the Eastern Star cruise ship rose to 431 dead yesterday with 11 people still ­missing.

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Only 14 people survived, mostly by swimming or drifting clear of the ship. Three were pulled by divers from the overturned hull on Tuesday.

After the ship had been pulled upright by cranes and thoroughly checked by Saturday, the search for additional bodies turned to the river downstream. ]

Authorities planned to expand the search from the Hubei province disaster site as far east as Shanghai, more than 600 miles away.

Transport minister Yang Chuantang presided over yesterday’s ceremony on the crane vessel that had been used to pull the Eastern Star up, saying simply, “Please observe silence.”

Hundreds of military and police personnel and others took off their hats and bowed as vessels blared their horns.

State broadcaster CCTV showed some relatives also bowing as they watched the event on television from where they were staying nearby in Jianli county.

Authorities have tightly controlled access to the site and said relatives would be taken there when necessary arrangements had been made.

Dozens were driven to a part of the riverbank about a mile away from the disaster site on Saturday to lay flowers, too far away to see the boat.

Yesterday marked the seventh day since the tragedy, the first commemorative event in the Chinese cycle of mourning. Authorities have attributed the overturning of the cruise ship late on Monday to a freak storm with tornado-like winds, but also have placed the surviving captain and his first engineer in police custody.

The boat was carrying 456 people, many of them elderly tourists, for a cruise from Nanjing to the south-western city of Chongqing.

Wang Hua, who lost her parents in the disaster, said the couple had been enjoying their retirement.

Her 77-year-old father, a former judge, made sure they travelled each year, and they had been all around mainland China and to Taiwan. “They were just ordinary people. Their biggest concern was causing trouble for others,” Ms Wang said in an interview organised by the local propaganda bureau.

Another relative Fu Hongli lost his brother and nephew.

He said: “My brother travelled all the time. There’s no point just milling about at home when you’re retired.”

Forensic teams were using DNA matching to identify the remains, but haven’t said how long the process will take.

Passengers’ relatives have raised questions about whether the ship should have continued its voyage after a weather warning earlier in the evening.