How Safe Is The Yangtze River? The Waterway Is A Popular Tourist Destination

Search efforts continued into Tuesday to rescue hundreds of missing passengers of a Chinese cruise boat that sank in the Yangtze River Monday. Rescue workers reportedly heard survivors from inside the vessel calling for help and have scrambled to locate people still trapped underwater. The boat, named "Eastern Star," was carrying 458 people at the time of the sinking and more than half of the passengers were above the age of 60, according to a released passenger list. River cruises are actually quite common for China's major waterway, but how safe is the Yangtze River?

The Yangtze River is China's longest river and the world's third-longest, stretching nearly 4,000 miles across the country. It begins in the Tibet Plateau and flows eastward, with smaller tributaries extending into the country's south, central, and eastern regions, before reaching Shanghai and emptying into the East China Sea. A crucial lifeline for the country, the Yangtze is often used for shipping and tourism, much of which is due to the beauty of the river's gorges. A full trip between the two ends of the tourism route — Shanghai and Chongqing (where the Eastern Star was headed) — takes roughly 10 days, with the best time to travel during early or late summer. According to The Telegraph, there are more than 60 vessels that operate cruises along the massive river.

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The Yangtze River can be tricky to navigate in certain areas with fast-moving currents, and the section where the ship sank, Hubei Province, is known to be dangerous, according to one tourism operator's website. In January, a small river boat carrying 25 people overturned while conducting tests near Zhangjiagang in the Jiangsu province. Twenty-two were confirmed dead, including eight foreigners. The river is also prone to flooding and has suffered in recent years from high levels of pollution, putting many animal species at risk of extinction.

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Despite the risks, Yangtze river cruises have become popular for both locals and foreigners, but the quality of tours have ranged in safety. The cause of the crash is still unknown, and authorities have said the Eastern Star was not over capacity and had enough life jackets for all of its passengers. As of Tuesday afternoon, five people were confirmed dead and around a dozen of people were rescued alive, including an elderly woman who was rescued around Tuesday noon local time.

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The ship's captain and chief engineer, who reportedly claimed the ship sank within minutes after being trapped in a cyclone, were also among those rescued, according to Xinhua. The incident sounds like horrific déjà vu, one that brings memories of last year's South Korean ferry disaster, which killed more than 300 people. The captain of the Sewol Lee Joon-seok was sentenced to 36 years in prison for negligence and abandoning the ship.

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