06/05/2015, 00.00
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"Star of the East" wreck salvaged from Yangtze River

Ministry of Transport spokesman justifies the decision to straighten the ship before the conclusion of recovery operations: "There were practically no chances of finding someone alive." With more than 440 victims, the sinking of the ferry becomes the worst maritime tragedy in the country since 1948.

Beijing (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Hopes of finding any survivors of the shipwreck of the "Star of the East", which sank last June 1 during a cruise on the Yangtze River, "are very few. So we decided to salvage and righten the vessel before concluding the recovery operations", said Xu Chengguang, Chinese Ministry of Transport spokesman justifying the decision made by the rescuers.

This morning the "Star of the East" was rightened. Inside, rescuers should be the bodies of about 440 people who died after the sinking of the ship. The reasons for the disaster are not yet entirely clear, although the 14 survivors - who jumped off the boat and swam to the shore – all agree on a sudden and strong storm, which overturned the ship in less than two minutes.

Until now only 97 bodies have been recovered. Rescuers are at this time engaged in searching within the 150 cabins, but Xu has made clear several times that "there is no sign of life from inside the ship." The authorities, the spokesman added, "wiould absolutely not cover up anything. We will shed light on the incident. " Even President Xi Jinping promised a thorough investigation into the cause of the disaster.

For official records there were 458 people on board the ferry at the time of the disaster, which later dropped to 456. Of these 406 Chinese tourists, five travel agents and 45 crew members. According to state television, the ship launched emergency calls: seven people swam to the shore to raise the alarm, the other seven were rescued during the initial relief operations.

If these numbers are confirmed, the disaster of June 1 would become the worst maritime accident in the history of Communist China. To date the worst such tragedy  had been the sinking of the SS Kiangya off Shanghai - for reasons never made clear - in 1948, killing between 2,750 and 4 thousand people who were fleeing the mainland after the seizure of power by Mao Zedong.

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