DNA matches ID Chinese ship victims; boat moved from capsize site

The remains of 330 of victims had been identified, state-run television said Wednesday

Using DNA-sample matching, Chinese authorities have identified three-quarters of the victims of the Eastern Star ship capsizing, but hundreds of families are still waiting to reclaim their loved ones’ remains 10 days after the disaster.

On Wednesday, a tugboat pulled the ship -- which was hoisted upright on Friday -- about six miles upstream from where it capsized in the Yangtze River on June 1 with 456 people aboard. Just 14 people -- including the captain -- survived. Remains of all but eight passengers have been found.

On Tuesday morning, a body believed to be connected to the ship was found 500 miles downstream in Nanjing, where the cruise originated.

Officials said they relocated the ship to calmer waters because the vessel, heavily damaged in the capsizing, would be unable to withstand the strong winds and heavy rains that are common during the Yangtze’s flood season if it were kept at the site of the disaster. In addition, moving the ship would facilitate navigation on the river, they said.

The remains of 330 of victims had been identified by Tuesday afternoon, 76 families had been able to view their loved ones’ remains and 69 victims had been cremated, state-run China Central Television said Wednesday; each victim’s family was receiving about $8,000 in initial compensation under orders from the State Council.

On Wednesday, some relatives were also invited to claim belongings of their next of kin at a mortuary in Jianli County that has been the staging ground for the rescue-and-recovery effort. More than 300 items had been sorted and affiliated with particular victims.

Cui Yuchen, whose mother was on the ship, said Wednesday she was still waiting for news. Her DNA sample was collected over the weekend, and she said she has heard that other people from her city of Tianjin who lost family members aboard the boat had been notified that identifications had been made.

But she was not among them. The waiting has been agonizing, she said, and she still has questions about what happened aboard the ship and about how the rescue effort was conducted.

On June 2, the day after the capsizing, two people were pulled alive from the hull, but no survivors were found after that. Divers probed the hull but holes were not cut into the vessel until the fourth day.

“We as the relatives are not too concerned about how we are treated,” she said. “All we care about are the people in the water.  We are not professionals, so we don't dare to question anything, but we wonder if there was a better and more efficient way to rescue” people, she said.

“All we want is to find our relatives as soon as possible,” she added, starting to cry. “The sooner the better. I have no extravagant wishes ... because we know what the result will be."

A report published in the Beijing News this week suggested that modifications to the ship may have made it more difficult for those aboard to escape the disaster. The remodeling replaced some doors with windows, and new furniture was not bolted to the floor, said the report, which was later removed from the newspaper’s website, apparently under orders from censors.

Nicole Liu in the Times’ Beijing bureau contributed to this report.

Follow @JulieMakLAT for news from China

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times