The search and rescue mission to save passengers from the capsized Chinese ship the Oriental Star, has now largely turned into a recovery operation as hopes of finding survivors dim. At the time the river boat capsized, it was traveling on China's massive Yangtze River near the country's Three Gorges Dam with a total of 456 people onboard.
The Chinese government has restricted access to the area, allowing only reporters from state-run media affiliates to visit and report from the accident scene. So far, a total of 26 fatalities and the rescues of 14 people have been confirmed. For the family members of those still missing, hope has turned to despair as they await confirmation of their loves ones' drowning deaths.
Many questions remain about what factors may have contributed to the cruise ship’s capsizing. While the Chinese government has reported that the ship encountered hurricane-force winds and even a possible tornado prior to the accident, questions related to the experience-level of the ship's crew and actions of the surviving captain must also be answered.
Reports of rampant safety issues that plague many of the ships that carry tourists up and down the Yangtze must also be closely examined. For example, in 2013 "the Nanjing Maritime Bureau found that six of 10 Yangtze cruise ferries had safety problems." Some speculate that such safety problems are tied to the economic difficulties within the river ferry tourism industry as the number of tourists that pay to travel aboard the Yangtze ships has dwindled in recent years.
The U.S.-based Worldwide Ferry Safety Association reports that, worldwide, more than 16,800 people were reported as dead or missing in ferry accidents from 2000 to September of 2014. Individuals who are adversely impacted by these types of tragedies deserve to know what happened and may choose to take legal action in cases where crew members lacked experience, a ship wasn't properly maintained or a captain made fatal errors.
Source: The New York Times, "Oriental Star Accident Highlights Increase in Safety Problems on Yangtze Cruises," Ian Johnson and Keith Bradsher, June 2, 2015
The New York Times, "China Keeps Lid on Information, as Hopes Dim in Yangtze Ship Disaster," Edward Wong and Austin Ramzy, June 3, 2015