Relatives face grim wait as bodies surface

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 November, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 November, 1999, 12:00am

Grieving relatives yesterday flocked to the offices of the state-owned ferry company in the port of Yantai, Shandong province, for news of rescue efforts in the worst shipping disaster in 50 years that killed at least 150 people.

Weeping relatives inundated the Yanda Ferry Company, which operated the roll-on, roll-off ferry.

A company official said relatives were being put up in hotels.

'The chance of finding more survivors is extremely low,' a Yantai salvage official said.

'But many families are demanding that we continue the rescue efforts. They want bodies back.' Snow, lashing wind and towering waves were hampering rescue work. The Government ordered transport firms to make sure all safety measures were enforced.

Dazed survivors told of passengers jumping to their deaths in the icy waters off Yantai, where the 9,000-tonne Dashun, a passenger and car ferry, split open and sank on Wednesday night.

'It breaks my heart to talk about this,' said survivor Shen Xisheng from his hospital bed. 'All those people jumping to their deaths into the water.' State television quoted one survivor as saying he escaped from the sinking vessel by smashing a cabin window with his hand and swimming to the surface, where a naval vessel plucked him to safety.

Up to 30 people were clinging to a life ring being hauled up to a vessel when the rope snapped. Only a naval officer, 44, was saved.

A crew member told state TV that the fire might have started when oil tanks bumped together in the storm and ruptured.

'The extinguishers didn't help because the fire was too big,' he said.

The Hong Kong-based Information Centre of Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China quoted messages appearing on a Website named the Yantai Hotline accusing the navy and Shandong authorities of a slow response to the tragedy.

'Only 22 people were rescued in five hours before the ferry sank. This demonstrates the bad co-ordination and half-hearted rescue efforts by relevant rescue units,' one message said.