Did Chinese ship with over 400 passengers sink in a minute?

Did Chinese ship with over 400 passengers sink in a minute?

As rescuers struggled to save over 400 passengers from the capsized Chinese ship, claims of its captain that it sank in a minute after being hit by a rare tornado has come under intense scrutiny with questions being raised how a vessel of that size could overturn in a jiffy.

After initial confusion over whether a cyclone or tornado hit the Eastern Star ship carrying 458 people, the Chinese Meteorological Administration said it was tornado which has caused an "abrupt convection" at level 12 or above but remained silent on why there were no early warnings.

"It lasted for 15 to 20 minutes. The main body of the cyclone stayed on the surface of the river," the administration said in an e-mail response to state-run Global Times.

It happened "so fast that the captain did not even get the time to send out a distress signal," said Wang Yangsheng, a senior official with the Yueyang Maritime Rescue Centre.

A report by news portal Caixin said the ship made a sudden turn shortly before it sank. But it was not clear whether the change of direction was caused by the wind or the crew's manoeuvring to avoid the headwind.

The ship's captain and chief engineer, who swam to the shore and alerted about the tragedy, were taken into custody for questioning by local police.

China Central Television reported that the surviving crew members of the capsized state-owned ship said the vessel encountered a tornado before it quickly turned over and sank.

Many doubt the likelihood of a tornado over the middle reaches of the Yangtze River, though this area did experience heavy rain on Monday, the Global Times report said.
Satellite data released by the China Transport Telecommunication and Information Centre showed the ship had made a 108-degree turn at about 9.20 PM on Monday. It then travelled for a further 10 minutes before capsizing.

Eye witness account of what happened during the capsize was provided by Zhang Hui, a tour guide who was one of the 14 persons who survived the shipwreck.

The ship was sailing through a thunderstorm when it suddenly tilted at an angle of more than 45 degrees, he told the state-run Xinhua news agency.

"I tried to tell my colleague that we were in big trouble. But before I was able to finish the sentence, the ship had capsized," he said, adding that he managed to grab a life jacket and within 30 seconds climbed out of the window of his bedroom, which had filled with water up to his neck.

He remembered seeing around a dozen people in the water yelling for help. Five minutes later, only three to four could be heard. Their voices waned half an hour later, Zhang recalled.

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