China blames freak weather for Yangtze ship sinking

China has blamed freak weather for the capsizing of a cruise ship in the Yangtze River that killed 442 people.

A State Council investigation team determined that the disaster was caused by “heavy storms during freak weather.”

Strong winds and heavy rains resulting from a squall line — a line of thunderstorms — were accompanied by a downburst, a strong downdraft of air that may produce damaging surface-level winds, according to a statement released by State Administration of Work Safety.

The cruise ship sank with 454 people aboard during a storm on China’s Yangtze River on June 1.

Only 12 survived. Six of them were crew members, including the captain and chief engineer. Some 442 bodies were later recovered by search crews.

Captain faulted

It was the deadliest boat disaster in China in almost 70 years.

According to the report, the Eastern Star sank at 9:32 p.m. on June 1, and capsized in less than two minutes.

Two passengers that escaped from the ferry were discovered in the water at 10:10 p.m. Local marine authorities confirmed with Captain Zhang Shunwen at 11:40 p.m. that she ship had been capsized.

The investigators faulted the captain’s response and recommended judicial authorities revoke the captain’s license and investigate whether to press criminal charges.

The report said he didn’t send out the distress signal, didn’t alert people on board or organize an evacuation due to a lack of awareness of the extreme bad weather and the potential risks.

It was also recommended that a further 43 people — including 36 government officials and regulators — face disciplinary action.

The investigation also said that the ferry’s ability to resist wind pressure was not enough to endure the “extremely rare weather.”

Built in 1994, the Eastern Star has been rebuilt and upgraded three times leading to the decline of the ship’s ability to resist extreme winds, the report said.

Five other ships nearby were also hit by storms at the same time. The investigation said differences in construction, displacement, and locations meant they didn’t sink.

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