SHANGHAI/NANJING (Reuters) - Family members of some of the hundreds of passengers aboard a capsized Chinese cruise boat scuffled with officials in Shanghai on Tuesday, angry that they were not being told what happened to the vessel and their loved ones.
In the nearby city of Nanjing, relatives of victims shouted at officials trying to pacify them.
About 60 people, many of them relatives of tourists on the Eastern Star cruise boat that capsized in the Yangtze River in a storm late on Monday, had initially gathered at a travel agency office in Shanghai that handled the bookings for the cruise.
That was locked and they were later escorted to the Shanghai local government office building where they were asked to wait inside a room. Scuffles broke out when a group of relatives, furious over the lack of information being given to them, started demanding more answers from officials.
“We’re extremely anxious,” said Zhang Yingli, 56, whose brother and wife were on the boat.
“It’s 4:30 p.m. now and we haven’t heard anything from anyone except the news. No one has come to reassure us.”
An official at the Shanghai government’s media office declined to comment when contacted by Reuters.
A total of 458 people, including 47 crew members, were on board the Eastern Star, according to state media. All the 406 passengers on board the ship had arranged the booking through Shanghai-based Xiehe International Travel. The other five were tour guides.
“I only found out about this on the television news while I was at work and I came here. I cried all the way here and here I can’t find anyone, the door is locked,” said Wang Sheng, 35, sprawled on a couch wailing for his mother and father who were on board.
According to the travel agent’s website, the river cruise originates in Nanjing and winds upstream for 11 days to the southwestern city of Chongqing, stopping at scenic and historic sites along the way.
Many of the relatives said they only learned about the disaster through news broadcasts and were angrily demanding more information.
“We haven’t heard anything from any authorities,” said Zhang Junmin, 32, whose mother along with her friends and neighbors were on the ship.
In a hotel in Nanjing, relatives of survivors gathered in a conference room and railed at officials for not giving them new information. Three local government officials stood in front of the room trying to soothe the crowd.
“You’re not doing anything to help us!” shouted a man with a ponytail and a half-shaved head to the officials.
Several relatives sat slumped in chairs, while others cried, holding their heads in their hands.
Local reporters said they had received a notification from the authorities telling them not to go to the site of the disaster but to cover the news based on reports from state broadcaster CCTV and Xinhua news agency.
Such information control is common in China for major disasters, reflecting the stability-obsessed ruling Communist Party’s fears of any kind of unrest.
In a sign of official nervousness about how the disaster may play out, a government document carried by a local Hubei newspaper on its official microblog said that provincial authorities were rushing police to the scene to “ensure social stability”.
Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING, Shanghai newsroom and Adam Jourdan; Writing by Kazunori Takada; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan