The Oriental Star, also known as the Eastern Star, is the ship that sank in the Yangtze River this week with more than 450 people on board. So far, only 14 people have been accounted for escaping the ship, and 12 people were found dead. The rest are suspected to be remaining in the vessel. Relatives of the people who were on board are both frustrated and worried about their loved ones, as little information is being released and the Chinese government is limiting the Chinese news sources that are allowed to cover the disaster.
The captain of the ship has been identified, found alive, and taken into police custody along with the chief engineer of the ship. More frustrating news unfolds from here.
The local maritime bureau sent out a notification at 5pm the day of the disaster to expect heavy rain and thunderstorms for the next six hours. Other vessels flowing on the Yangtze that day set down their anchor. The Oriental Star did not. Why would it, though? Was it not a big sturdy ship that can be counted on? In fact, it was not.
With major competition in the cruise industry, the company that the Oriental Star belonged to, Chongqing Oriental Ferry Company is in severe debt. The company struggles to hire qualified workers on low salaries. The Oriental Star was built in 1994, and had some modifications made to it in 1997 which could have affected its center of gravity. The ship reportedly had a lot of safety violations.
Questions about Captain Zhang’s decision are bubbling. While many believe that he should have anchored the ship due to low visibility during the storm, as other ships did, some say that moving forward could have been the better option. Apparently, there was not enough of the ship submerged into the water to keep it steady in the storm anyways. According to reports, captains on the Yangtze have a wide range of discretion on when and where to stop. Furthermore, relatives are questioning why the captain did not warn passengers when emergency situations began to arise. There is suspicion, however, that the captain knew of a looming disaster because he was among the few who managed to survive.
Satellite data showed that the Oriental Star was flowing up the Yangtze when it suddenly began to travel downstream, for at least five minutes. It is unclear whether the ship was traveling in the opposite direction because it turned around, or because it was being shoved back by the storm. After it went downstream for a few minutes, it lost contact with the satellite.
A handful of others managed to remain afloat with life-vests they found, or from air pockets under water. There were reportedly more life jackets than passengers. The Yangtze River has a history of turbulent waters, and navigators are always struggling to get through it. The storm that caused the ship to capsize has been described as a tornado by the captain and the engineer.
It is expected that the death-toll of this disaster will surpass that of the accident in April 2014, when a Korean ship encountered problems and lost more than three hundred passengers. Most of the passengers on the Oriental Star were elderly, but there were young children present as well.
By Tania Dawood
The New York Times- Few Triumphs in Frantic Hunt for 430 in Yangtze River
BBC- Yangtze sinking: Rescued from air pockets under water
USN- Capsized Yangtze river cruise ship cited 2 years ago for safety violations
Photo Courtesy of Will De Freita’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License