A six-month investigation into a cruise ship that capsized on the Yangtze River in June found that heavy storms and management errors were the main causes of the tragedy.
A State Council investigation team concluded that the incident was "an extraordinarily serious disaster" caused by strong winds and heavy rains that resulted from a squall line accompanied by a downburst, a very rare weather phenomenon, according to an official statement released Wednesday.
The investigation also found that the shipping company and local authorities had flaws in their daily management and suggested that 43 people, including a vice provincial level official, be punished.
The Eastern Star, which was carrying 403 tourists, 46 crew members and five travel agency staff, was on an 11-day cruise along the Yangtze River when it capsized on the night of June 1, 2015. As many as 442 lives were lost, and only 12 people on board survived.
Zhang Shunwen, captain of the ship, is under criminal investigation by judicial organs. His sailing license has been suspended and his contract with the shipping company revoked. Zhang’s first mate, Liu Xianlu, died in the incident.
The investigation ruled out speculation that the captain had abandoned the ship and said he took measures to stabilize the vessel, but the wind force was more than double the maximum level the ship could take. The investigation found the Eastern Star was not in a hurry before the accident occurred, as the bus scheduled to pick up the ship passengers in the next stop was late and the ship was actually slowing down.
The investigation team has urged government departments and enterprises to improve preventative measures, including a sailing ban on the Yangtze River during extreme weather, a mechanism to issue storm alerts and training programs for crew members to help them cope with emergencies.