According to the New York Times, an investigation into the June 1 disaster on the Yangtze River, released by the Chinese government Wednesday through state media outlet Xinhua News, found that the incident, in which 442 people died, was caused by a combination of violent weather and human error.
All but a dozen people aboard the cruise ship (referred to by Xinhua as the “Eastern Star” and the Times as the “Oriental Star”) died after it capsized and sank overnight amid heavy rain and wind. Many of the passengers aboard the ship, which was on a multi-day pleasure cruise from Nanjing to Chongqing, the Times reports, were elderly.
“The sinking of the Oriental Star arose from sudden and rarely seen severe convective weather (a squall line accompanied by a downburst) that brought an onslaught of strong winds and heavy rains that led to this extraordinarily grave disaster,” the report said, according to the Times.
“The capacity of the Oriental Star to withstand winds and resist overturning was in line with the regulatory requirements, but it was not enough to withstand the extremely bad weather that it encountered.”
Among the survivors were the ship’s captain and its chief engineer, detained soon after the disaster. “The captain and first mate on duty had insufficient knowledge of extreme weather and its risks,” the report determined. “They never issued a distress message, did not issue a warning to the whole ship, and did not organize steps to abandon ship and disperse passengers.”
The report recommended that the captain, Zhang Shunwen, be stripped of his license and investigated further. The ship’s first mate was also found to be at fault; however, he died in the accident.
Though extreme weather was found to have caused the tragedy, the investigation also pointed to “problems in daily management and supervision”, with 43 people held accountable.
The owner of the Eastern Star, Chongqing Eastern Shipping Corp., modified the ballast tanks without requesting an official inspection afterward, according to the official report.
The firm also failed to give proper training to its crew on how to respond to inclement weather conditions, the report said.
The investigation team said the captain and his chief mates had “insufficient knowledge” about extreme weather and possible dangers, and “responded inadequately.”
Other flaws by the firm included insufficient checks on cabin facilities and lax monitoring over the ship’s condition.
Local authorities, including port and maritime safety administrators, were accused of inadequate ship examination and lax water transport permit issuance.
The investigation also dismissed earlier reports that a tornado had contributed to the ship’s capsizing.