China ship death toll exceeds 400, victims mourned

China ship death toll exceeds 400, victims mourned
Family members of Eastern Star cruise ship victims burn offerings as they cry during a ceremony to mark seven days since the ship went down

JIANLI, China - Chinese officials and rescuers bowed in mourning towards a battered cruise ship which capsized during a storm in the Yangtze River, as the death toll from the disaster reached 431 on Sunday, with 11 still missing.

Only 14 survivors, one of them the captain, have been found after the ship carrying 456 overturned in a freak tornado on Monday night in Jianli in Hubei province. Most of the passengers were elderly tourists.

The four-storied ship was righted and raised on Friday, allowing rescuers onto it to clear away debris, break down cabin doors and look for the remaining missing. The river is being swept to as far away as Shanghai looking for the missing.

Government spokesman Hu Kaihong told reporters that DNA tests were being carried out to identify the bodies. Local police have collected DNA samples from 412 bodies, according to Guo Tangying, deputy head of the Hubei provincial police department.

Sunday marks seven days since the Eastern Star went down, and according to Chinese tradition this a key date on which to mourn the dead.

State television showed hundreds of rescue workers and government officials standing on the deck of a barge facing the Eastern Star during a three-minute silent tribute to the victims at around 9 am Sunday. They removed their hats and bowed their heads, as surrounding boats sounded their horns.

Families members will also gather near the river for ceremonies.

More than 1,400 relatives have come to Jianli.

The government says that it is doing everything possible to help the relatives, including providing free accommodation and medical services, and Vice Premier Ma Kai has been dispatched to meet family members personally.

"It made me feel incredibly warm. When he shook my hand and said a few words to me, told us to keep on going. I felt that he didn't seem like a political leader at all. He was so genial. He was like my own father," Wang Hua, 42, who lost both parents on the ship, told Reuters of her meeting with Ma.

The company which operated the ship has apologised for the disaster and said it would "fully" co-operate with the investigation. Beijing has pledged there would be "no cover-up".

Jiang Zhao, general manager of the company which operated the Eastern Star, bowed in apology for the disaster during an interview with state television broadcast on Saturday, saying they would "fully" co-operate with the investigation.

Police have detained the captain and chief engineer for questioning as part of the investigation. An initial probe found the ship was not overloaded and had enough life vests on board.

The disaster is China's worst shipping catastrophe in seven decades.

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