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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

22 feared dead in tug boat capsize tragedy in China's Yangtze river

Capsize   means : to overturn or cause to overturn.

The Yangtze River is the longest river in Asia and the third-longest in the world. It flows for 6,300 kilometers  from the glaciers on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau in Qinghai before emptying into the East China Sea at Shanghai. The river is the longest in the world to flow entirely within one country.  In recent years, the river has suffered from industrial pollution, agricultural run-off, siltation, and loss of wetland and lakes, which exacerbates seasonal flooding. Some sections of the river are now protected as nature reserves. In mid-2014 the Chinese government announced it was building a multi-tier transport network, comprising railways, roads and airports, to create a new economic belt alongside the river.

In a tragedy, 22 people are feared killed after brand new tug boat capsized during test voyage on China's Yangtze River.  News reports state that just 3 of the 25 men on board survived when the ship suddenly turned over in one of the river's channels. Reports suggest that strong currents made it difficult to pull the 368-ton tug boat, which was built in October, into shallow water. Rescue crews were only able to conduct a thorough search of the tug boat on Saturday morning, then it was pulled into shallow waters.  A survivor is quoted as saying that water entered the boat cabin very quickly in les then 20 seconds it was completely filled with water.  A survivor narrates that he could do so by clinging to a hydraulic pump and said he had grabbed the Japanese engineer, but their grasp was broken as the boat began to sink.

Rescuers, who had been hampered by swift currents, finally managed to pull the 98-foot long Wanshenzhou 67 into shallow waters later, allowing them to search inside. The ship had been on a test voyage in the river's Fubei Channel, in Jiangsu province, and it is understood the ship's owner, parts supplier and engineer were among the 25 people aboard when it went under.  The ship was built by Anhui Bengbu Shenzhou Machinery Co. Ltd in October. Distraught relatives gathered at the banks of the river, in Jiangsu province, to wait for news of their missing loved ones.  A Singapore foreign ministry spokesman said Friday that the vessel was registered in the city-state and four of its nationals were on board.

The accident occurred on a stretch of the river that experiences extremely strong currents, between the cities of Jingjiang and Zhangjiagang, which is close to the Yangtze's mouth near the commercial hub Shanghai. The provincial government said the boat was undergoing trials without properly completing the required procedures and without first reporting the condition of the ship, as required by regulations.

So like the ill-fated Titanic, the newly built, 30-meter (98-foot) long Wanshenzhou 67 also sank on (this time on its test voyage itself) taking along its owner, parts suppliers and engineers.

As could be read, at some places it is referred as a ship and as ‘tug’ in others.  Tug boats look similar to fishing trawlers but pack great power.  These Tug boats are often smaller with width:length ratio higher as it would need a lower draught.  They require minimum crew – they are stationed at harbours; pilot, pull and bring bigger ships in to their designated place inside the Port.  In ports where mid-sea loading / unloading takes place, tugs would pull barges in a row.  If it was indeed a tug, perhaps, it might not have had this much crew !

This casualty occurred at ‘Yangtze’ – there is another river ‘Huang He’ often referred as ‘yellow river’ originating in the Bayan Har Mountains in Qinghai province of western China.  It is called  "the cradle of Chinese civilization", because its basin was the birthplace of ancient Chinese civilization, and it was the most prosperous region in early Chinese history. However, frequent devastating floods and course changes produced by the continual elevation of the river bed (due in part to manmade erosion upstream), sometimes above the level of its surrounding farm fields, has also earned it the unenviable names ‘China's Sorrow’ and Scourge of the Sons of Han.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

20th Jan 2015.

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