China cruise ship death toll exceeds 400, victims mourned

Chinese officials, rescuers and family members gathered in mourning on Sunday for those lost on a cruise ship which capsized during a storm in the Yangtze River, as the death toll from the disaster reached 431, with 11 still missing.

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Only 14 survivors, one of them the captain, have been found after the ship carrying 456 overturned in a freak tornado on Monday night in Jianli in Hubei province. Most of the passengers were elderly tourists.

The four-storey ship was righted and raised on Friday, allowing rescuers onto to it to clear away debris, break down cabin doors and look for bodies. The river is being swept to as far away as Shanghai looking for the missing.

Government spokesman Hu Kaihong told reporters that DNA tests were being carried out to identify the bodies. 

Sunday marks seven days since the Eastern Star went down, and according to Chinese tradition this a key date on which to mourn the dead.

State television showed rescue workers and government officials standing on a barge facing the battered boat, removing their hats and bowing their heads, as surrounding boats sounded their horns.

At separate locations along the river, emotional family members also got together to burn joss sticks and make offerings of food to the spirits of the deceased.

More than 1,400 relatives have come to Jianli, with many expressing frustration at the lack of information from the government. On Friday, one burst into a just-concluded news conference, publicly accusing the government of treating its people like enemies.

The government says that it is doing everything possible to help the relatives, including providing free accommodation and medical services, and Vice Premier Ma Kai has been dispatched to meet family members personally. 

Some relatives, speaking to foreign reporters in the presence of officials, praised the government’s efforts.

“It made me feel incredibly warm. When he shook my hand and said a few words to me, told us to keep on going. I felt that he didn’t seem like a political leader at all. He was so genial. He was like my own father,” Wang Hua, 42, who lost both parents on the ship, told Reuters of her meeting with Ma.

Major state newspapers on Sunday carried the same lengthy story by the official Xinhua news agency on their front pages, headlined “Bearing great responsibility to the people” and detailing the government’s efforts.

“In the midst of disaster, we are all of one heart, the whole nation helping each other, staunchly moving forward,” it wrote.

The company which operated the ship has apologised for the disaster and said it would “fully” cooperate with the investigation. Beijing has pledged there would be “no cover-up”. 

Police have detained the captain and chief engineer for questioning as part of the investigation. An initial probe found the ship was not overloaded and had enough life vests on board. 

The disaster has now caused a higher toll than the sinking of a ferry in South Korea in April 2014 that killed 304 people, most of them children on a school trip. It is China’s worst shipping catastrophe in seven decades.

(Additional reporting by Paul Carsten in BEIJING; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Kim Coghill)

 

Child check reforms needed: NSW Labor

The NSW opposition is urging swift reforms to working-with-children laws to shut down successful appeals by convicted criminals including rapists and killers.

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It has emerged that violent criminals banned from working with children have been cleared to do so on appeal, despite objections from the Children’s Guardian.

“Parliament’s going to have to make a strong statement here – that child protection trumps legal niceties,” Labor leader Luke Foley told reporters on Sunday.

Among those cleared to work with kids in the last 12 months after appealing adverse decisions were a man who once picked up a hitchhiker and sexually assaulted her multiple times.

Another case involved a woman whose own children were removed from her care before she was jailed over her role in a drug-fuelled bashing murder.

In each case, the NSW Office of the Children’s Guardian deemed the applicants unfit to work with children but the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal overturned the decision on appeal.

Currently, the only people who are not eligible to appeal adverse decisions from the Children’s Guardian are those convicted of the murder of a child.

The opposition wants that “one-strike” category of offences extended to include sexual assault against a minor or the manslaughter of a child.

Mr Foley said people guilty of those crimes should never get a second chance to work with children after being rejected by the Children’s Guardian.

“(The message should be) ‘Don’t bother appealing, because we just won’t ever take the risk of putting you in charge of a child in a workplace ever again,'” he said.

Mr Foley said it was also troubling that convictions recorded overseas were not captured under the current scheme.

He acknowledged that beefing up the scheme could risk curtailing the civil rights of rehabilitated offenders but said: “Children’s rights here must trump all other rights. Offenders will say they have rehabilitated themselves but the onus must always be in favour of child protection.”

The Baird government has promised to examine all tribunal cases which have overturned a Children’s Guardian decision to refuse a working-with-children clearance, and has indicated a willingness to consider legal reforms pending the outcome of that review.

But Mr Foley wants legislative amendments passed this month, before parliament rises for the winter break.

Gallen unscathed in Sharks boilover

NSW skipper Paul Gallen is set to be rushed back into the State of Origin team after coming through unscathed in Cronulla’s 10-4 upset win over a wasteful Roosters side at Remondis Stadium.

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In front of a healthy crowd of 14,235, Gallen played all but four minutes in a vintage performance that included a game-high 230 running metres and 41 tackles.

More importantly, he looked hardly troubled in two separate stints by a hip injury that has kept him on the sidelines for the past two months.

“I’m fine. I’ll stay on top of things,” Gallen said after the match.

Pressed on his preparation for Origin, the 33-year-old said he was taking a wait-and-see approach.

“I spoke to Laurie (Daley) earlier in the week and just told him that I’d be right to play this week,” he said.

“I’ll just wait and see what he comes up with in the next 24 hours. Fingers crossed, I’m ready to go.”

While NSW will welcome the return of their skipper, Sharks fans will celebrate their second boilover against the competition heavyweights this year.

An ill-disciplined Roosters outfit were made to pay for completing just 59 per cent of their sets, continually handing possession over to their opposition and struggling to get out of their end of the field.

Cronulla were down 4-0 when Jeff Robson offloaded to Luke Lewis to nab the go-ahead try in the 46th minute.

More Roosters errors allowed the Sharks to camp themselves in the opposition red zone, and they managed to pot penalty goals in the 64th and 77th minutes to seal their second win in three games.

Roosters coach Trent Robinson pasted his team for a lacklustre performance less than one week after a season-best effort against Melbourne.

“We patted ourselves on the back for too long. Some coaches and some players have got to make sure they wake up to themselves pretty quickly,” he said.

“I’ve got to make sure and the players have got to make sure that we get back into what we started to build there.

“There’s no soft way around it. We know our footy and were just looking for shortcuts.

“It just doesn’t work in our game we just got outworked.

“(Cronulla) were looking for a fight and they fought for 80 minutes and we fought for the first 15 and then looked for some outs through some footy.

“We didn’t lay a platform. It’s horrible, horrible footy.”

The hosts started brightly enough but the Roosters scored first points when Jack Bird’s 16th minute grubber cannoned into James Maloney, who then raced 90 metres to score.

But the Roosters’ poor handling gifted Cronulla plenty of opportunities to get on the scoreboard.

However just once did the home side come close to crossing the stripe, only for Valentine Holmes to be adjudged to have taken advantage of an illegal decoy, leaving them to face a 4-0 deficit at halftime.

Roos coach signals shift after win

Stand-in coach Darren Crocker has signalled a change in momentum for North Melbourne after his side’s 10-point win over West Coast.

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Battling fierce winds at Hobart’s Blundstone Arena on Sunday, Crocker said the Kangaroos handled the conditions better than their opponents to hold on and win the closely fought battle 13.7 (85) to 10.15 (75).

“This is the start. We really need to build momentum from this game and get the ball rolling,” Crocker said.

The Kangaroos now have a 5-5 win-loss record for the season, while the Eagles are 7-3 and slip one place to third on the ladder.

In a see-sawing game, North Melbourne led by 18 points at the first break, trailed by seven at halftime, and took a six-point advantage into the final term.

“The second quarter I thought we just tried to defend a lead and do everything we could to do that, (and it) didn’t really work for us that well,” Crocker said.

“Whereas in the last quarter because we didn’t have much of a buffer we needed to keep attacking.”

A trio of quick goals late in the third term to Ben Brown, Brent Harvey and Shaun Higgins proved crucial for North Melbourne.

Half-forward Higgins, who was top goal-scorer for the Kangaroos with four, drew praise from Crocker.

“He was just super-important to us.

“He brings an element of real class, composure, but also the ability to get forward and get to the fall of the ball.”

Jack Ziebell was also valuable with 24 disposals, 11 clearances and a goal.

His was one of four final-term goals for the Kangaroos which Crocker said was a “super” effort in the strong gale.

“Any high balls that got kicked into that wind some of them were nearly going back toward the kicker,” the coach said.

“Our guys as the game went on, just played the conditions a little bit smarter.”

Sunday’s result helps calm the nerves of Crocker, who is sitting in the big chair for Brad Scott who is recovering from back surgery.

The pair kept in close contact by text message throughout Sunday’s game.

“Brad was well aware of what was getting spoken about in the box,” Crocker said.

“It worked pretty well: he was able to text in from time to time with his thoughts and from my perspective it wasn’t distracting at all.”

A disappointed Eagles coach Adam Simpson said North Melbourne were “ruthless” and deserved to win.

“We are not going to win every week,” he told reporters, adding that he’s still happy with how the team is placed.

For West Coast, Brownlow medallist Matt Priddis finished with 32 disposals and four clearances while ruckman Nic Naitanui won 30 hitouts, but was inaccurate in front of goal and finished with 0.4.

No new wounds for AFL Lions to lick

Perhaps the most significant figure from the Brisbane Lions’ 30-point AFL away loss to GWS on Sunday was the one that didn’t show up on the stat sheets: no new injuries.

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The injury list after last week’s loss to St Kilda comprised 19 names, with only Pearce Hanley from that group playing on Sunday.

It was probably easier to publish a list of who was fit, with the Lions reserves on Sunday fielding just six listed players and 16 top ups in their 192-point loss to UWS Giants.

Despite the crippling injury toll, the senior Lions side battled right to the end against the high-riding Giants at Spotless Stadium.

They trailed by 46 in the fourth quarter but summoned the effort to kick the last three goals.

“To the guys’ credit, we never gave in and stayed really strong as a unit, which is what we wanted to do,” Lions midfielder Dayne Zorko told AAP.

“To hang in and only make it five goals, I’m really proud of the boys.”

Coach Justin Leppitsch also drew some encouragement from the effort of his youthful and vastly understrength side, though lamenting some missed set shots and some Giants goals from stoppages.

“We go into our bye a little bit battered and bruised as a list goes, but we go in with pretty good confidence,” Leppitsch said.

“I think the last month our effort has improved out of sight.”

The 2-8 Lions now have almost two weeks to recover before resuming their campaign against Western Bulldogs at Etihad Stadium.

“I think it (the bye) has come at a really good time with the injury list being so high,” Zorko said,

“Hopefully the second half of the season we get a lot of those experienced guys back out on the park.”