Rescue workers have started righting the cruise ship that capsized on June 1 in the Yangtze River during a storm with 456 people on board.
By the evening of June 4, 77 bodies had been recovered, including four that were found and identified in Yue-yang, Hunan province, in the afternoon of June 4. Only 14 people have been found alive.
The rescue headquarters decided to turn the ship upright and drain out all the water so it could be put back into the river for further examination of all cabins.
Diving, recovery, relief and ship design experts from across the country are on the scene to provide support.
Other ships have been required to leave the rescue area.
In the night of June 3, rescuers cut three holes in the hull so divers could get inside to search for possible survivors.
However, the 72-hour period considered critical after an accident has passed.
Chances of finding more survivors are very slim, Xu Chengguang, a spokesman for the Ministry of Transport, said at a media briefing on June 4.
Authorities are investigating Eastern Star crew members who had been rescued and are gathering evidence, said Xu.
“We will never conceal mistakes, and we’ll absolutely not cover up anything,” he said.
The executive meeting of the State Council on June 4 said a thorough investigation into the cause of the incident must be made and security checks in important industries such as water transportation undertaken to eliminate potential risks.
President Xi Jinping convened a special meeting of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee on June 4 to discuss the disaster. A statement issued after the meeting said that the rescue work has been arduous and that authorities must mobilize all possible forces and take all possible measures to race against the clock in the rescue operation.
The Political Bureau Standing Committee called on rescuers to “employ all possible measures” to save the injured and it called for a “serious investigation into the cause of the incident”, Xinhua said.
It also stressed that “the work of appeasing the families is very important” and called on local party committees and governments to “sincerely understand the families’ grief, carry out appeasement efforts and earnestly safeguard social stability”.
Huang Zhen, head of Jianli county, Hubei province, where the accident occurred, said rescuers recovered bodies and sent them to a funeral home in Jianli.
“Professionals will collect and analyze DNA and then contact the next of kin to identify the dead,” Huang said.
Zhang Shifeng, head of the Social Affairs Department of the Ministry of Civil Affairs, said authorities would arrange for the relatives of passengers to visit the scene if it would not affect rescue work.
Li Qixiu, an expert at the Naval University of Engineering, which participated in the rescue effort, told Xinhua News Agency that cutting open the ship’s hull should not be the first choice to search for survivors.
“When the ship overturned, the remaining air would form air pockets. If we open the hull carelessly, water might fill the air pockets, which could compromise the ship’s stability and put any survivors in danger,” said Li.
“If they are trapped in an air pocket, passengers may still have a chance of surviving” said Li.
Reuters contributed to this story.