The Eastern Star cruise ship that capsized on June 1 had undergone a retrofit in which passenger cabin doors that led directly out to the ship’s deck were sealed shut and turned into windows, according to the Beijing News (link in Chinese). That, among several other changes to the ship, made the vessel more dangerous and especially more prone to capsizing, the newspaper reported.
Beijing News has since deleted the report from its website but it remains accessible via its WeChat page (via the above link), and includes before and after shots of the boat. The retrofitted, later model is below:
Each cabin on the ship used to have two doors, one leading to an interior corridor and one to the outer deck, the report said, but after the retrofit only the interior doors remained.
Unnamed ship inspectors and people who had worked on the Eastern Star before the retrofit told the paper that other amendments to the boat include replacing the fixed beds with wooden ones. This adds further safety risks, the report says, as unfixed beds can slide during winds, shift the boat’s center of gravity, and hasten a ship’s capsizing. They can also block the exits as passengers try to escape.
The retrofit was conducted in Chongqing in 1997, with the purpose of turning what was then a utilitarian ferry into a cruise ship. An unnamed company employee stated in the report that the ship was lengthened from 66 meters to 76.5 meters, which the report states was longer than regulations permit. Its previously flat bow was converted to its current pointed style to reduce drag and save on fuel costs.
So far no charges have been brought against either the captain of the ship or the company that owns it. The fact that the report was eventually pulled from the Beijing News website suggests that the government is trying to stifle discussion about the retrofit until it formulates a response, just as it has censored discussion and other reports about the accident.