It's being called China's worst maritime disaster in decades: More than 400 people remain missing after a cruise ship capsized on the Yangtze River on Monday. As a huge rescue operation continues, Chinese leaders want to censor independent media reports.
Of the more than 450 people who were aboard the Eastern Star when it capsized in rough weather Monday night, only 14 have reportedly been rescued. State media report that more than 200 divers are on the scene, trying to find any survivors — but rain and strong winds have complicated their efforts.
According to the state-run Xinhua news agency, the cruise ship's captain and chief engineer, who are in police custody, say that it "sank 'within one or two minutes' of being caught in a tornado."
China Central Television has posted video footage from a nearby ship that shows the doomed Eastern Star moving amid rain and flashes of lightning Monday night.
Xinhua says, "The 76.5-meter [250-foot] ship can carry up to 534 people. Tickets for the cruise cost from 1,098 yuan [177 U.S. dollars] to 2,298 yuan." The agency adds that the cruises, which visit historic sites and other attractions, are marketed to senior citizens.
It seems that some reporters are refusing to go along with the government's attempt to control the information coming out about the catastrophe.
From Hubei province, NPR's Frank Langfitt reports:
"The government has told Chinese media not to dispatch more reporters to the scene of the capsizing, according to leaked censorship instructions. And they're to immediately recall those who are already there.
"Watching a news conference near the scene, one Chinese reporter was overheard telling another to go home.
" 'Don't waste your time here,' he said. 'After all, your stuff will never be published.'
"Officials have ordered news media to only use authoritative, government-controlled sources, such as the New China News Service and China Central Television. But many Chinese journalists appear to be ignoring the orders, and are staying in the area and continuing to report."