Survivors of sinking ship tell of their ordeal

Nine crew members remain missing after divers find a body on a ship that sank in a collision on Tuesday night. Survivors have spoken of their ordeal.

Three men who were rescued after their cargo ship sank on Tuesday night after a collision with a freighter talked to the media yesterday for the first time about their ordeal. 

Meanwhile, nine crew members are still missing after divers found a body on the sunken ship at 4:35pm yesterday.

Shanghai Maritime Search and Rescue Center said the identity of the victim had yet to be confirmed.

The center said the body was found in the corridor of the third level of the ship where the sailors’ cabins are located. More than 20 search and rescue vessels are continuing to work in the area. 

The Changping sank near Shanghai’s Wusong Dock around 11:30pm on Tuesday.

“The ship sank too quickly, leaving us too little time to react,” said sailor Jiang Yuzhao, 47.

He survived along with chief mate Li Weilin and second engineer Yang Jianguang. 

“The ship left the basin after 11pm and encountered water traffic restrictions before entering the Huangpu River,” said Li, a 53-year-old Dalian native. “We dropped anchor and waited for a while. The ship started sailing again when the restriction was over.

“It was raining pretty heavily. I went to change into my raincoat after finishing the anchor work. Suddenly I heard a big noise and the ship shook heavily. I ran to the deck to check the damage, seeing that the captain was also there. Then I saw water flooding onto the deck, while the ship was sinking. So I shouted loudly, ordering the crew to abandon ship.

“From hearing the noise to deciding to abandon the ship, it was no more than three minutes,” Li said.

Li said he fell into the water and had to hold tight to a rail so that the water pulling into the ship down would not drag him into the cabin. He soon floated up to the surface and noticed that Yang was not far from him.

“We tried to stay together, but the current was too strong and got us separated,” Li said. “I could not find the whistle attached to my life jacket, but found a torch floating on the water. With the torch, I managed to catch the attention of a ship passing by.”

Li said the ship, Junyu 28, approached and stopped its engine before pulling him out of the water.

“My mind was quite clear after falling into the water, and was thinking how to keep myself warm. After being rescued, I felt chilly and was worried about other crew.”

Yang was saved by the same ship. “After the collision, I took my life jacket and ran toward the pilothouse,” said the 38-year-old from Weihai in Shandong Province. “But I was hit by waves before reaching the pilothouse, and fell into the water.”

Ma Yue / SHINE

From left: Survivors Jiang Yuzhao, Li Weilin and Yang Jianguang talk to the media yesterday.

According to Wusong water traffic management center’s records, Changping left its basin at 11:06pm, and started to speed up at 11:25pm. Five minutes later, it collided into Xinwang 138, which was berthing at its basin. The center then lost trace of Changping, but received a collision report from Xinwang 138, saying Changping was sinking.

Jiang was in the pilothouse together with the captain and the second mate when the accident happened. However, Jiang said he was not aware of what caused the collision.

“I ran to the deck, and saw that Xinwang 138’s bow collided with the stern of our ship,” said Jiang. “I jumped onto Xinwang 138 when I noticed that our ship was sinking. From Xinwang 138, I saw the chief mate and another sailor on the deck of Changping, but they soon disappeared in the water.

“The ship sank too quickly, leaving us too little time to react. Xinwang 138 did not leave the scene. We tried to look for other sailors with a searchlight before the arrival of rescue vessels.”

According to Li, Changping was built in 2008. The ship reported no fault since it left Liaoning Province’s Yingkou on December 30.

Li said the crew was changing shifts when the incident happened. Apart from the chef who was sleeping, all the other 12 people on the ship were awake. Most of the crew are around 40 years old.

“We sent divers to the sunken ship for the fifth time at 10:35am today (Thursday),” said Jiang Haiyan, an official with the Wusong bureau’s management center. “The water is muddy with low visibility, so the search mainly depended on touch.”

He said Changping’s pilothouse, which is on the fourth level, was empty. The divers were currently operating on the third level of the sunken ship where the sailors’ cabins are located. However, the corridors are blocked with furniture and pieces of the ship, which added to the difficulty.

“We have expanded our search area by another four to five sea miles today. It’s windy with waves of 1 to 1.5-meter high. Due to the tides, a diver could work for at most one hour at a time when the current is steady in the area.”

The official was speaking before the recovery of the body of one of the victims. 

The search for the missing crew will continue till at least midnight tonight — 72 hours after the incident — before the authority starts salvaging the sunken ship.

The cause of the incident is still under investigation.

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