4 Singaporeans among 20 missing as boat sinks in Yangtze

4 Singaporeans among 20 missing as boat sinks in Yangtze

Four Singaporeans are among more than 20 people missing after a Singapore-registered tugboat sank during a trial voyage on the Yangtze River on Thursday.

At least 23 maritime and coast guard vessels from coastal Jiangsu province have been deployed for the search and rescue operation. Three people, all Chinese nationals, were rescued. Survivor Wang Chenkai said he and a 60-year-old Japanese engineer were testing the boat's engine when the vessel "suddenly slid over".

"Water entered the boat cabin very quickly. In less than 20 seconds, it was completely filled with water," he told state broadcaster CCTV from a hospital.

A spokesman for Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said it was informed that the vessel, JMS Delta, sank in the Yangtze near Jingjiang. The county-level city comes under the jurisdiction of Jiangsu's Taizhou city.

"We understand that four Singaporeans were on board the ship at the time of the incident. MFA is in touch with the families of the Singaporeans and the companies they are working for."

The incident took place around 3pm near a fast-flowing stretch of the river between the cities of Jiangyin and Zhangjiagang, near Shanghai.

The boat reportedly had 25 people on board, including the owners and technicians. There were eight foreigners, one each from Malaysia, Japan, India and Indonesia, and four Singaporeans, media reports said.

Singapore's Sembcorp Marine said its tug-towing subsidiary, Jurong Marine Services, had three employees - two Singaporeans and one Indonesian - on the tugboat, which it had planned to charter.

"The group has informed their families and has made arrangements for them to travel to Shanghai. Management will continue to provide support and comfort and updates on the search mission to the families," a Sembcorp statement said yesterday.

Singapore's President Tony Tan Keng Yam expressed concern in a Facebook post yesterday: "Search and rescue operations are under way and my thoughts and prayers are with the families of the people aboard who are still missing."

Mr Stanley Loh, Singapore's Ambassador to China, said officers from the Shanghai consulate-general, including Consul- General Ong Siew Gay, are on site to provide help to the families and companies involved.

"Search and rescue is now our top priority. I spoke with Jiangsu vice-governor Zhang Lei, who is in charge of rescue operations. He assured me the Jiangsu authorities are doing everything possible to rescue the crew," he said.

Chinese media reports, quoting Jiangsu's maritime authorities, said the boat was on an unapproved trial voyage and that reports about its condition, as required by regulations, had not been submitted. China News Agency quoted a survivor as claiming that mishandling of the boat caused the sinking.

Jiangsu party boss Luo Zhijun and governor Li Xueyong have called for an investigation and all-out effort in the rescue operation, reportedly hampered by rapid currents and cold waters. A crane was deployed to try to lift the 30m, 368-ton boat, and the search expanded.

"As long as we have the slimmest hope, we will give 100 per cent effort," Mr Wang Shiming, deputy head of the Jiangsu Maritime Safety Administration, said on state television yesterday.

kianbeng@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Jan 17, 2015.
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