China ship disaster death toll jumps, company says sorry

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China Ship Death Toll Nearly 400

The death toll from a Chinese cruise ship which capsized during a storm in the Yangtze River jumped to 396 on Saturday, leaving fewer than 50 still missing, as the boat operator apologized and said it would cooperate with investigations.

Only 14 survivors, one of them the captain, have been found after the ship carrying 456 overturned in a freak tornado on Monday night.

Rescuers are searching the cabins of the four-level ship, which was righted and raised on Friday, looking for more bodies.

State television showed pictures of workers clad in protective gear and wearing masks prizing open doors with crowbars and using axes to clear away debris from the ship, which is being held up by cranes and wires attached to barges.

Jiang Zhao, general manager of the company which operated the Eastern Star, bowed in apology for the disaster during an interview with state media, saying they would "fully" cooperate with the investigation.

"From the very moment this happened I have been immersed in sorrow," Jiang told state television.

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China ship disaster death toll jumps, company says sorry
JINGZHOU, CHINA - JUNE 05: (CHINA OUT) Rescuers work to raise the capsized ship Dongfangzhixing in the Yangtze River on June 5, 2015 in Jingzhou, China. Fourteen people have been rescued and 331 are confirmed dead after a passenger ship named Dongfangzhixing (Eastern Star) carrying 458 people sank in the Jianli (Hubei Province) section of the Yangtze River on Monday. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
MIANYANG, CHINA - JUNE 07: (CHINA OUT) People light candles to mourn victims onboard Chinese cruise Eastern Star near Fujiang River on June 7, 2015 in Mianyang, Sichuan Province of China. The death toll of the capsized cruise Eastern Star reached 406 on Sunday, leaving 36 still missing and 14 survived. Sunday marks the seventh day since the cruise sunk and it is a key date to mourn the dead according to Chinese tradition. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
LIAOCHENG, CHINA - JUNE 07: (CHINA OUT) Students from Liaocheng University light candles to mourn victims onboard Chinese cruise Eastern Star at Liaocheng University on June 7, 2015 in Liaocheng, Shandong Province of China. The death toll of the capsized cruise Eastern Star reached 406 on Sunday, leaving 36 still missing and 14 survived. Sunday marks the seventh day since the cruise sunk and it is a key date to mourn the dead according to Chinese tradition. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
JINGZHOU, CHINA - JUNE 07: (CHINA OUT) Rescue workers attend a moment of silence for three minutes at a ceremony to mark the seventh day since the Eastern Star went down in the Jianli section of Yangtze River on June 7, 2015 in Jianli County of Jingzhou, Hubei Province of China. The death toll of the capsized cruise Eastern Star reached 406 on Sunday, leaving 36 still missing and 14 survived. Sunday marks the seventh day since the cruise sunk and it is a key date to mourn the dead according to Chinese tradition. (Photo by Chen Zhuo/Yangtze River Daily/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
MIANYANG, CHINA - JUNE 07: (CHINA OUT) People light candles to mourn victims onboard Chinese cruise Eastern Star near Fujiang River on June 7, 2015 in Mianyang, Sichuan Province of China. The death toll of the capsized cruise Eastern Star reached 406 on Sunday, leaving 36 still missing and 14 survived. Sunday marks the seventh day since the cruise sunk and it is a key date to mourn the dead according to Chinese tradition. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
JINGZHOU, CHINA - JUNE 07: (CHINA OUT) Rescue workers attend a moment of silence for three minutes at a ceremony to mark the seventh day since the Eastern Star went down in the Jianli section of Yangtze River on June 7, 2015 in Jianli County of Jingzhou, Hubei Province of China. The death toll of the capsized cruise Eastern Star reached 406 on Sunday, leaving 36 still missing and 14 survived. Sunday marks the seventh day since the cruise sunk and it is a key date to mourn the dead according to Chinese tradition. (Photo by Chen Zhuo/Yangtze River Daily/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
JINGZHOU, CHINA - JUNE 05: (CHINA OUT) Rescuers work to raise the capsized ship Dongfangzhixing in the Yangtze River on June 5, 2015 in Jingzhou, China. Fourteen people have been rescued and 331 are confirmed dead after a passenger ship named Dongfangzhixing (Eastern Star) carrying 458 people sank in the Jianli (Hubei Province) section of the Yangtze River on Monday. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
Rescue workers look at the sunken passenger ship as it is lifted by cranes in the Yangtze river in Jianli in China's Hubei province on June 5, 2015. Relatives of passengers missing after a Chinese cruise ship capsized expressed agony and anger after an official admitted there is no hope of finding more survivors. AFP PHOTO / JOHANNES EISELE (Photo credit should read JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images)
Rescue workers look at the sunken passenger ship being lifted by cranes in the Yangtze river in Jianli in China's Hubei province on June 5, 2015. Relatives of passengers missing after a Chinese cruise ship capsized expressed agony and anger after an official admitted there is no hope of finding more survivors. AFP PHOTO / JOHANNES EISELE (Photo credit should read JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images)
A foot of a dead body (bottom-C-L) is seen inside the sunken passenger ship as it is lifted by cranes in the Yangtze river in Jianli in China's Hubei province on June 5, 2015. Relatives of passengers missing after a Chinese cruise ship capsized expressed agony and anger after an official admitted there is no hope of finding more survivors. AFP PHOTO / JOHANNES EISELE (Photo credit should read JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images)
Rescue workers rest next to empty stretchers on the river bank next to the turned around capsized passenger ship as it is lifted by cranes in the Yangtze river in Jianli in China's Hubei province on June 5, 2015. Relatives of passengers missing after a Chinese cruise ship capsized expressed agony and anger after an official admitted there is no hope of finding more survivors. AFP PHOTO / JOHANNES EISELE (Photo credit should read JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images)
This photo taken on June 3, 2015 shows rescuers carrying the bodies of the victims of the capsized Chinese cruise ship walking on the riverbank in Jianli, central China's Hubei province. Relatives of more than 400 people missing after the cruise ship 'Eastern Star' capsized on China's Yangtze river gathered at the disaster site on June 4, as rescuers breached the hull in a last-ditch search for more than 400 people believed trapped inside. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
This photo taken on June 3, 2015 shows rescuers carrying the bodies of the victims of the capsized Chinese cruise ship walking on the riverbank in Jianli, central China's Hubei province. Relatives of more than 400 people missing after the cruise ship 'Eastern Star' capsized on China's Yangtze river gathered at the disaster site on June 4, as rescuers breached the hull in a last-ditch search for more than 400 people believed trapped inside. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
ZHUJI, CHINA - JUNE 03: (CHINA OUT) Students light candles and pray for victims of the capsized ship Dongfangzhixing at a high school on June 3, 2015 in Zhuji, China. Fourteen people have been rescued and seven are confirmed dead after a passenger ship named Dongfangzhixing (Eastern Star) carrying 458 people sank in the Jianli (Hubei Province) section of the Yangtze River on Monday. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images)
This photo taken on June 3, 2015 shows rescuers carrying the body of a recovered victim of the capsized Chinese cruise ship in Jianli, central China's Hubei province. Relatives of more than 400 people missing after the cruise ship 'Eastern Star' capsized on China's Yangtze river gathered at the disaster site on June 4, as rescuers breached the hull in a last-ditch search for more than 400 people believed trapped inside. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
This photo taken on June 3, 2015 shows a relative (R) of a passenger - missing after a Chinese cruise ship capsized on the Yangtze river - wiping away tears as relatives gather at the disaster site in Jianli, in central China's Hubei province. Relatives of more than 400 people missing after the cruise ship 'Eastern Star' capsized on China's Yangtze river gathered at the disaster site on June 4, as rescuers breached the hull in a last-ditch search for more than 400 people believed trapped inside. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
This photo taken on June 3, 2015 shows two relatives looking on towards the disaster site of the sank vessel 'Eastern Star' in Jianli, central China's Hubei province. Relatives of more than 400 people missing after the cruise ship 'Eastern Star' capsized on China's Yangtze river gathered at the disaster site on June 4, as rescuers breached the hull in a last-ditch search for more than 400 people believed trapped inside. AFP PHOTO CHINA OUT (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
JINGZHOU, CHINA - JUNE 02: (CHINA OUT) Rescuers search for survivors from the capsized ship Dongfangzhixing in the Yangtze River on June 2, 2015 in Nanjing, China. A passenger ship named Dongfangzhixing (Eastern Star) carrying 458 people, including 406 Chinese passengers, 5 travel agency workers and 47 crew members aboard, according to the administration, sank at around 9:28 p.m. on Monday in the Jianli (Hubei Province) section of the Yangtze River. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images)
JINGZHOU, CHINA - JUNE 02: (CHINA OUT) Rescuers search for survivors from the capsized ship Dongfangzhixing in the Yangtze River on June 2, 2015 in Jingzhou, China. A passenger ship named Dongfangzhixing (Eastern Star) carrying 458 people, including 406 Chinese passengers, 5 travel agency workers and 47 crew members aboard, according to the administration, sank at around 9:28 p.m. on Monday in the Jianli (Hubei Province) section of the Yangtze River. According to officials 15 people have been rescued with hundreds still missing. The captain and the chief engineer both survived and claimed that the ship sank quickly after being caught in a cyclone. Chinese President Xijinping has ordered a work team of the State Council to rush to the site to guide search and rescue work and rescue teams of Hubei, Chongqing and relevant parties to carry out all-search efforts and properly handle the aftermath. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images)
JINGZHOU, CHINA - JUNE 03: (CHINA OUT) Rescuers carry victims' bodies from the capsized ship Dongfangzhixing in the Yangtze River on June 3, 2015 in Jingzhou, China. Fourteen people have been rescued and seven are confirmed dead after a passenger ship named Dongfangzhixing (Eastern Star) carrying 458 people sank in the Jianli (Hubei Province) section of the Yangtze River on Monday. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
Rescue personnel move the remains of victims who were travelling on the capsized passenger ship Dongfangzhixing or 'Eastern Star' onto a boat in the Yangtze river at Jianli in China's Hubei province on June 3, 2015. Relatives of more than 400 people missing after a cruise ship capsized on China's Yangtze river were hoping for a 'miracle' on June 3, as authorities said they were racing against time to find any survivors. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
An elderly survivor (C) is carried onto the river bank after being rescued from the Dongfangzhixing or 'Eastern Star' vessel which sank in the Yangtze river in Jianli, central China's Hubei province on June 2, 2015. Divers raced to find survivors on June 2 after a Chinese ship sank with more than 450 mainly elderly people in the storm-tossed Yangtze river, raising hopes more people can be found alive. (Photo credit STR/AFP/Getty Images)
A survivor (C) is rescued by divers from the Dongfangzhixing or 'Eastern Star' vessel which sank in the Yangtze river in Jianli, central China's Hubei province on June 2, 2015. Divers raced to find survivors on June 2 after a Chinese ship sank with more than 450 mainly elderly people in the storm-tossed Yangtze river, raising hopes more people can be found alive. (Photo credit STR/AFP/Getty Images)
Rescue teams search for survivors near the Dongfangzhixing or 'Eastern Star' vessel which sank in the Yangtze river in Jianli, central China's Hubei province on June 2, 2015. Divers raced to find survivors on June 2 after a Chinese ship sank with more than 450 mainly elderly people in the storm-tossed Yangtze river, raising hopes more people can be found alive. (Photo credit STR/AFP/Getty Images)
An elderly passenger (C) is escorted to the river bank after being rescued from the Dongfangzhixing or 'Eastern Star' vessel which sank in the Yangtze river in Jianli, central China's Hubei province on June 2, 2015. Divers raced to find survivors on June 2 after a Chinese ship sank with more than 450 mainly elderly people in the storm-tossed Yangtze river, raising hopes more people can be found alive. (Photo credit STR/AFP/Getty Images)
A relative of missing passengers who were on a ship which sank in the powerful Yangtze river the night before reacts after hearing news of the sinking outside a travel agency in Shanghai on June 2, 2015. China mounted a rescue operation on June 2 after the ship which was reportedly carrying more than 450 people sank in the powerful Yangtze river after being hit by stormy weather. (Photo credit STR/AFP/Getty Images)
A relatives (R) of missing passengers who were on a ship which sank in the powerful Yangtze river the night before cries as he accepts an interview from a journalist outside a travel agency in Shanghai on June 2, 2015. China mounted a rescue operation on June 2 after the ship which was reportedly carrying more than 450 people sank in the powerful Yangtze river after being hit by stormy weather. (Photo credit STR/AFP/Getty Images)
Relatives of passengers on board the Dongfangzhixing or 'Eastern Star' which sank en route from the eastern city of Nanjing to the southwestern city of Chongqing, mourn as they wait for information at a hotel in Nanjing, east China's Jiangsu province on June 2, 2015. Divers racing to find survivors rescued a 65-year-old woman on June 2 after a Chinese ship sank with more than 450 mainly elderly people in the storm-tossed Yangtze river, raising hopes more people can be found alive. (Photo credit STR/AFP/Getty Images)
A relative of missing passengers who were on a ship which sank in the powerful Yangtze river the night before reacts after hearing news of the sinking outside a travel agency in Shanghai on June 2, 2015. China mounted a rescue operation on June 2 after the ship which was reportedly carrying more than 450 people sank in the powerful Yangtze river after being hit by stormy weather. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
Relatives of missing passengers who were on a ship which sank in the powerful Yangtze river the night before react after hearing news of the sinking outside a travel agency in Shanghai on June 2, 2015. China mounted a rescue operation on June 2 after the ship which was reportedly carrying more than 450 people sank in the powerful Yangtze river after being hit by stormy weather. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
Relatives of passengers on board the Dongfangzhixing or 'Eastern Star' which sank en route from the eastern city of Nanjing to the southwestern city of Chongqing, react as they wait for information at a hotel in Nanjing, east China's Jiangsu province on June 2, 2015. Divers racing to find survivors rescued a 65-year-old woman on June 2 after a Chinese ship sank with more than 450 mainly elderly people in the storm-tossed Yangtze river, raising hopes more people can be found alive. (Photo credit STR/AFP/Getty Images)
Chinese rescue boats are seen alongside a capsized passenger ship carrying more than 450 people which sunk in the Yangtze river, triggering a rescue effort hampered by strong winds and heavy rain off Jianli in China's Hubei province on June 2, 2015. The ship named Dongfangzhixing, or 'Eastern Star', was headed from the eastern city of Nanjing to the southwestern city of Chongqing when it sank in the Jianli section of the river. (Photo credit STR/AFP/Getty Images)
People wait at Oriental Shipping Company in Chongqing for their relatives who took passenger ship Dongfangzhixing (Eastern Star) for Chongqing and the ship sank on Monday night in Jianli section of the Yangtze River on June 2, 2015 in Chongqing, China. A passenger ship named Dongfangzhixing (Eastern Star) carrying 458 people, including 406 Chinese passengers, 5 travel agency workers and 47 crew members aboard, according to the administration, sank at around 9:28 p.m. on Monday in the Jianli (Hubei Province) section of the Yangtze River. The ship headed for Chongqing from Nanjing and the captain and the chief engineer in thirty five people have been rescued and both claimed that the ship sank quickly after being attacked by cyclone. Chinese President Xijinping has ordered a work team of the State Council to rush to the site to guide search and rescue work, and rescue teams of Hubei, Chongqing and relevant parties to carry out all-search efforts and properly handle the aftermath. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
Chinese villagers watch as rescue teams head out to search for survivors of a passenger ship carrying more than 450 people which sunk in the Yangtze river, triggering a rescue effort hampered by strong winds and heavy rain off Jianli in China's Hubei province on June 2, 2015. The ship named Dongfangzhixing, or 'Eastern Star', was headed from the eastern city of Nanjing to the southwestern city of Chongqing when it sank in the Jianli section of the river.  (Photo credit: TR/AFP/Getty Images)
Chinese rescue boats are seen alongside a capsized passenger ship carrying more than 450 people which sunk in the Yangtze river, triggering a rescue effort hampered by strong winds and heavy rain off Jianli in China's Hubei province on June 2, 2015. The ship named Dongfangzhixing, or 'Eastern Star', was headed from the eastern city of Nanjing to the southwestern city of Chongqing when it sank in the Jianli section of the river. (Photo credit STR/AFP/Getty Images)
Chinese rescue teams head out to search for survivors of a passenger ship carrying more than 450 people which sunk in the Yangtze river, triggering a rescue effort hampered by strong winds and heavy rain off Jianli in China's Hubei province on June 2, 2015. The ship named Dongfangzhixing, or 'Eastern Star', was headed from the eastern city of Nanjing to the southwestern city of Chongqing when it sank in the Jianli section of the river. (Photo credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images)
A Chinese rescue team head out to search for survivors of a passenger ship carrying more than 450 people which sunk in the Yangtze river, triggering a rescue effort hampered by strong winds and heavy rain off Jianli in China's Hubei province on June 2, 2015. The ship named Dongfangzhixing, or 'Eastern Star', was headed from the eastern city of Nanjing to the southwestern city of Chongqing when it sank in the Jianli section of the river. (Photo credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images)
A Chinese rescue team head out to search for survivors of a passenger ship carrying more than 450 people which sunk in the Yangtze river, triggering a rescue effort hampered by strong winds and heavy rain off Jianli in China's Hubei province on June 2, 2015. The ship named Dongfangzhixing, or 'Eastern Star', was headed from the eastern city of Nanjing to the southwestern city of Chongqing when it sank in the Jianli section of the river. (Photo credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images)
Recovery and rescue crews attend the accident site where a ship carrying 458 people sank on Monday night in Jianli section of the Yangtze River on June 2, 2015 in Jingzhou, Hubei province of China. A passenger ship named Dongfangzhixing (Eastern Star) carrying 458 people, including 406 Chinese passengers, 5 travel agency workers and 47 crew members aboard, according to the administration, sank at around 9:28 p.m. on Monday in the Jianli (Hubei Province) section of the Yangtze River. The captain and the chief engineer in eight people have been rescued and both claimed that the ship sank quickly after being attacked by cyclone. Chinese President Xijinping has ordered a work team of the State Council to rush to the site to guide search and rescue work, and rescue teams of Hubei, Chongqing and relevant parties to carry out all-search efforts and properly handle the aftermath. (Photo by Chen Zhuo/Yangzi River Daily/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
Recovery and rescue crews attend the accident site where a ship carrying 458 people sank on Monday night in Jianli section of the Yangtze River on June 2, 2015 in Jingzhou, Hubei province of China. A passenger ship named Dongfangzhixing (Eastern Star) carrying 458 people, including 406 Chinese passengers, 5 travel agency workers and 47 crew members aboard, according to the administration, sank at around 9:28 p.m. on Monday in the Jianli (Hubei Province) section of the Yangtze River. The captain and the chief engineer in eight people have been rescued and both claimed that the ship sank quickly after being attacked by cyclone. Chinese President Xijinping has ordered a work team of the State Council to rush to the site to guide search and rescue work, and rescue teams of Hubei, Chongqing and relevant parties to carry out all-search efforts and properly handle the aftermath. (Photo by Chen Zhuo/Yangzi River Daily/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
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Beijing has pledged there would be "no cover-up" in the probe.

Police have detained the captain and chief engineer for questioning as part of the investigation. An initial probe found the ship was not overloaded and had enough life vests on board.

The disaster has now caused a higher toll than the sinking of a ferry in South Korea in April 2014 that killed 304 people, most of them children on a school trip. It is also China's worst shipping catastrophe in seven decades.

More than 1,400 family members have come to Jianli in the central province of Hubei, where the ship went down, with many expressing frustration at the lack of information from the government.

The government says that it is doing everything possible to help the relatives, including providing free accommodation and medical services, and on Saturday state television ran an interview with a tearful family member saying how happy she was with all their help.

Peng Jun, head of Hubei province's civil affairs bureau, told reporters the treatment of the families was "meticulous".

As for the crematorium, which some family members had tried in vain to enter to see the bodies of their loved ones, he said it had a reception center that would work with families.

Authorities would work to "satisfy their reasonable demands, and provide all conveniences to them", he said.

But relatives speaking to Reuters have expressed concern about security apparently being aimed at them, including the number of police cars parked outside of hotels where they are staying.

On Saturday morning, a daily government briefing for family members was cut short after an argument broke out with a representative of the local government. One woman was carried out of the briefing after she fainted.

"There is no information at all. Everyday we're here procrastinating, wasting time. There's no clear-cut answers, there's no progress to inform us of," said Wang Shuang, 24, whose mother and uncle were on the boat.

The government is bringing in equipment to store the bodies, many of which are in an advanced state of decomposition, as well as DNA experts to help with identification.

In a sign of respect for the victims, state television will suspend certain programs and advertisements that "highlight celebrations" for the next three days, Xinhua news agency said.

(Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Jeremy Laurence and Kim Coghill)

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