Our cruise ship accident lawyers have come to learn of a recent tragedy that is being referred to as China’s worst maritime disaster in over 70 years. On Monday night, the Chongqing Eastern Shipping Corp.-owned MV Dong Fang Zhi Xing cruise ship (translated as “Eastern Star” or “Oriental Star”) capsized on the Yangtze River near Jingzhou during a bad storm. According to a Huffington Post news report, the vessel, only 251 feet long and four decks tall, was carrying 456 passengers and crew members on a chartered river sailing from Nanjing to Chongqing when the accident occurred. Thus far, only about 14 victims have been rescued, 26 have been confirmed dead, and more than 400 people are still missing – many of which are believed to be trapped inside the sunken ship.
Sadly, there are times when unfavorable weather conditions can contribute to an accident at sea. However, for the most part, cruise operators should be well aware of the weather conditions that are to be expected prior to a sailing. If serious storms are predicted, which could place the lives of those on board in danger, it is the duty of the cruise operator to postpone, cancel, or modify the itinerary to protect the safety of both passengers and crew and prevent a life-threatening accident.
The Huffington Post article explained that the vessel was not designed to withstand heavy storms the way a larger cruise ship can. As a result, the vessel overturned when it sailed through the storm. The ship overturned so quickly that those on board didn’t even have enough time to reach for lifejackets or make it to the vessel’s lifeboats.
However, the storm itself was no ordinary storm. Weather authorities explained it was a cyclone, with winds reaching up to 80 mph. In other words, it was basically a Category 1 hurricane, as defined by the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.
Cyclones, tropical storms, and hurricanes don’t just pop out of nowhere. These types of natural disasters take time to develop, and are tracked regularly by local weather authorities. Whether the Eastern Star’s operators failed to keep up with weather reports or chose to ignore them completely has yet to be confirmed, but in either case (both equally shocking), cruise operators may be found at fault for negligence in failing to uphold the safety of passengers and crew. It also doesn’t help that local maritime records indicate the capsized ship was cited two years ago for safety violations.
Our attorneys aren’t the only ones who find the circumstances of this tragic cruise ship accident odd. Loved ones of the victims have also questioned whether the cruise ship’s operators did everything they could to ensure the safety of those on board, and have turned to authorities for help. Needless to say, police have responded with full force and have launched an investigation.
At this point, the chances of finding any other survivors is doubtful. The last known survivors were rescued by search divers on Tuesday. Still, the search continues for the missing victims. Among those who were rescued include the ship’s captain and chief engineer, who have both been taken into custody. This leads us to wonder whether the decision to sail through the storm was made by the captain or the cruise operators. As we’ve seen before with the Costa Concordia capsizing tragedy, captains have been known to make last minute changes to a ship’s itinerary that can prove fatal. For now, all we can do is wait as authorities investigate the specific circumstances surrounding the maritime tragedy and hope survivors and loved ones of the deceased and those who are still unaccounted for can find some semblance of peace in knowing police are looking into the matter.