Rescue workers are cutting into the hull of the cruise ship Eastern Star that capsized late on Monday in the Jianli section of the Yangtze River in central China's Hubei Province, June 3, 2015. Rescuers have only found 14 survivors, and so far have retrieved 26 bodies, leaving over 400 people still unaccounted for. (Xinhua/Xiao Yijiu)
Rescuers are cutting into the hull of a cruise ship that capsized late on Monday, in an escalated effort to find survivors believed to be trapped inside.[Special coverage]
The Eastern Star incident on the Yangtze River could become China's deadliest shipping accident in almost seven decades. Over 450 people were onboard the ship when it sank on Monday night after being hit by a tornado in Jianli, Hubei Province.
Only 14 survivors have been rescued, and 26 bodies found, leaving over 400 people still unaccounted for.
Rescuers plan to cut a 55-60cm rectangular hole on the bottom of the upturned ship to give divers better access, the rescue headquarters at the site told Xinhua.
"The ship sank in a very short time frame, so there could still be air trapped in the hull," Li Qixiu of the Naval University of Engineering told Xinhua over telephone. "That means there could still be survivors."
The main difficulty the team will face is holding the vessel steady to prevent it from sinking further during the operation. The escape of any air trapped inside the hull could cause the ship to lose what buoyancy it has and sink deeper, he said.
Li said divers had managed to attach the steel cables to the hull and the plan was to support the ship with cranes while rescuers searched inside.
The Three Gorges Dam, up stream from the site of the incident, has meanwhile reduced the flow of water by more than half, from 17,200 cubic meters per second to just 7,000 cubic meters, to help the effort.
However, experts have cautioned that controlling the flow of the Yangtze for too long will put pressure on dams on the upper reaches of the river.
Li also warned of the inevitably that the air in closed spaces, where people are breathing, thins over time, and added that "the longer it takes, the less likely we will be able to find survivors."
"We are racing against time, but we are not going to give up," he said.