SHANGHAI - The owner of a ship that capsized on China's Yangtze river with 456 people aboard has been ordered to suspend operations of a second boat and carry out safety probes on its entire fleet, an official at the Yangtze river authority said on Thursday.
The death toll from the stricken Eastern Star, which overturned in a freak tornado on Monday night, has risen to 65, but more than 370 people are still unaccounted for. The boat is owned by Chongqing Eastern Shipping Corporation.
Rescuers have searched day and night for missing people, many of them elderly, but only 14 survivors have so far been found in what could be China's worst shipping disaster in almost 70 years. The survivors include the ship's captain.
An official at the Changjiang River Administration of Navigational Affairs told Reuters the Chongqing Eastern Shipping Corporation would need to halt operations of its Eastern Pearl ship, which was built to the same design as the Eastern Star. "We've already ordered the Oriental Pearl to come to dock and instructed the crew and passengers to leave the boat," the official, who was part of the emergency response unit, said.
Other boats in the fleet could still operate but the company would have to send teams of experts aboard to carry out checks.
An senior manager at Chongqing Eastern Shipping Corporation declined to comment.
The Eastern Star, which had been on an 11-day voyage upstream from Nanjing to Chongqing, had passed inspections by authorities in Chongqing last month, the People's Daily said.
But according to documents from a local maritime watchdog, it was held by authorities due to defects in 2013.
The Nanjing Maritime Safety Administration had investigated Eastern Star as part of a safety campaign into passenger ferries and tour boats and held the ship along with five other vessels, according to three documents on the bureau's website.
The documents gave no details of the defects but said the issues were reported to the Chongqing maritime safety bureau.
Official news agency Xinhua said all boat operators on the Yangtze river should prepare for the impending flood season, pay close attention to the weather and improve their emergency response measures.