MV Dong Fang Zhi Xing was constructed in February 1994 with a total capacity of 534 people. The ship was 76 metres (250 ft) long with a beam of 14 metres (45 ft).The ship was owned by the Chongqing Eastern Shipping Corporation and operated by Xiehe Travel, where it made cruises within the Three Gorgesarea of inland China.
Dong Fang Zhi Xing as well as other Yangtze cruise ships had come under review in recent years due to the growing tourist industry in China. In 2013, the Dong Fang Zhi Xing and five other ships were cited for safety violations by the Nanjing maritime bureau, though the Chongqing Eastern Shipping Corporation did not comment on the nature of these infractions.
On 1 June 2015 at around 9:28 p.m. while making a 1,500 km (930 mile) trip from Nanjing toChongqing via the Yangtze River, the ship was caught in a severe storm and sank near Jingzhou in 15 m (49 ft) deep waters. The captain and chief engineer said the ship was hit by a tornado, and the Chinese Meteorological Administration confirmed that a tornado occurred in Jianli county, with windspeeds reaching 12 on the Beaufort scale,and is believed to have struck the river near the ship’s location.The ship was carrying 456 people, including 405 passengers, all of whom were Chinese and who were mostly elderly, 46 crew members and five tour guides.According to crew members that were rescued, the storm hit and capsized the ship quickly while most of the passengers were asleep. One rescued passenger stated that the ship had become flooded with water, and with the turbulent river conditions, was listed to about 45 degrees where it subsequently capsized. About seven survivors were able to swim to shore and alert authorities to the situation, about two and a half hours after capsizing.
Rescue efforts were made immediately to save the passengers and crew, though these did not commence at scale until about twelve hours after the capsizing. The ship upended and is now partially submerged. 65 people have been confirmed dead, with some bodies having washed ashore, 50 km (31 mi) downstream from the wreck. Fourteen people have been rescued, including the ship’s engineer and captain. According to a tweet from China Central Television, rescuers were able to hear the sound of people trapped inside.CCTV reported that search teams have heard people yelling from within the ship. 1,000 police officers from the Hubei Armed Police Corps were sent to the site with 40 inflatable boats. Authorities reported that the search and rescue effort include divers, 3,000 people, and 50 boats.The crews have been using both diving apparatus to search the ship from underwater, and trying to cut through the inverted hull to access the interior.Additional search efforts were made to locate survivors or bodies up to 220 kilometres (140 mi) downstream of the wreck.
Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang ordered rescue efforts respectively, while Premier Li Keqiang, Vice Premier Ma Kai and State Councilor Yang Jing are travelling to the site.
Authorities in China are attempting to determine the cause of the capsizing. Severe weather reports were issued for the area, which should have subsequently been sent to all vessels on the river in the area for them to take necessary precautions. There is no confirmation that Dong Fang Zhi Xing had been properly notified, though at least one other vessel traveling nearby was shown to have taken precautions due to the weather warning. The ship’s captain and chief engineer, two of the rescued persons, have been taken into custody for questioning.