JIANLI, China (AP) — The death toll in the Eastern Star capsizing rose to 331 on Saturday as disaster teams searched the now-upright ship bobbing on the water for more bodies, making it China’s deadliest boat disaster in nearly seven decades.
Authorities have attributed the overturning of the cruise boat in the Yangtze River late Monday to sudden, severe winds, but also have placed the surviving captain and his first engineer under police custody.
Passengers’ relatives have raised questions about whether the ship should have continued its cruise after the storm started in a section of Hubei province and despite a weather warning earlier in the evening.
Heavy rains in the Yangtze area over four days beginning Monday have killed 15 people and left eight others missing, the Ministry of Civil Affairs said.
State media outlets said hundreds more bodies from the Eastern Star were found overnight and Saturday, bringing the death toll to 331.
The state broadcaster CCTV and the official Xinhua News Agency earlier Saturday morning put the death toll at 345, but they both later revised the number downward to 331. More than 100 remain unaccounted for.
The boat had more than 450 people aboard, many of them elderly tourists, for a cruise from Nanjing to the southwestern city of Chongqing.
Fourteen people survived, including three pulled out by divers from air pockets in the overturned hull on Tuesday.
Disaster teams put chains around the hull and used cranes to roll the banged-up, white and blue boat upright and then gradually lift it out of the gray currents of the Yangtze on Friday.
China’s deadliest maritime disaster in recent decades was the Dashun ferry, which caught fire and capsized off Shandong province in November 1999, killing about 280.
The Eastern Star disaster could become the country’s worst since the sinking of the SS Kiangya off Shanghai in 1948, which is believed to have killed anywhere from 2,750 to nearly 4,000 people.
Associated Press writers Louise Watt and Ian Mader and news assistant Henry Hou in Beijing contributed to this report.