Tan Sheng, a migrant worker in China’s eastern Zhejiang province, was astounded when local fishermen demanded a 12,000 yuan (HK$15,000) fee on Sunday to salvage the bodies of his brother and his brother’s girlfriend who drowned in a river in Wenling on Saturday night, reported website Zhejiang Online.
Tan ended up paying only 3,000 yuan. But the story sparked widespread outrage in China, where the absence of government supervision and assistance in retrieving drowned bodies is being questioned.
The salvage workers arrived on Sunday morning, after turning down Tan’s request to retrieve the bodies on Saturday night, citing low visibility, the reports said . They also told Tan that even if they failed to bring back the bodies, he still had to pay them 8,000 yuan.
This figure greatly upset Tan, who earns a small salary working in a local factory. The police, who had called the salvage workers, then intervened and helped negotiate the fee down to 3,000 yuan.
The authorities later explained that the salvage workers were mostly locals who worked part time for an extra income, and the government had no control over their fees.
"Why are the rescue workers so indifferent to poeple who have just lost their beloved ones?," wrote a micro-blogger, "They are after nothing but money"
"But they deserve to be paid for their labour," argued another one. "There is nothing wrong with that."
“The government should set up guidelines and fee standards for salvage companies, and help build a volunteer rescue team,” suggests a commentary by the Xinhua news agency.
A similar incident in Hubei in 2009 outraged many people in China after a salvage worker allegedly extorted 12,000 yuan and cigarettes for rescuing three college students, who had drowned trying to rescue children from the Yangtze River.