The captain of a passenger ship that capsized on the Yangtze River, leaving hundreds feared dead, may have ignored weather warnings, according to local media reports.
Zhang Shunwen, the captain of the Eastern Star cruise ship, and his chief engineer have been detained by police for questioning after the ship sank on Monday (June 1) during extreme weather. The ship carried over 458 people, many of them elderly tourists. Only 14 have been rescued, including the captain and the engineer, and hundreds are still missing.
According to Dragon TV in Shanghai (video in Chinese), the captain appears to have ignored or not seen seven weather warnings issued by the Hubei Meteorological Administration on June 1 as well as a call to avoid sailing that evening. The Jingzhou Maritime Safety Administration issued a warning at 5:26pm that was not lifted until almost midnight, prohibiting ships from “risky sailing” because of heavy rain, wind, and lightning. “All ships are advised to take every safety precaution,” the warning said.
Other reports have noted that a ship following the same path as the Eastern Star stopped because of the bad weather (link in Chinese). According to that ship’s captain, the Eastern Star continued anyway in hopes of reaching Jingzhou, one of its scheduled stops, by the next day.
Links to the Phoenix News report were censored on Chinese social media, but some remained on the microblog Weibo, spurring discussion. Bloggers were skeptical of the suggestion that the captain should be blamed. One wrote (registration required), “Don’t tell me all the captain is going to get all the blame. Right now the boss men have already started to shrink from responsibility.” Another said, “Are we putting all the blame on the captain and nothing at all happens to the government agency in charge?”
Additional reporting by Zheping Huang and Richard Macauley.