22 people confirmed dead in tugboat tragedy in China's Yangtze river

Twenty-two people are confirmed dead after the body of the last missing person in a tugboat tragedy in China's Yangtze River was found on Saturday afternoon.

The Jiangsu Maritime Safety Administration (JMSA) said rescuers found the last body in the cockpit at around 2pm, the official Xinhua news agency reported. There were 25 men on board the tugboat. Three of them - all China nationals - were rescued on Thursday.

Four Singaporeans are among the eight foreigners on board the JMS Delta that sank during a trial voyage. They are Quah Shihong, Baginda Ali Zainul Abidin, Chung Wai Kian Bernard and Lim You Tsern, People's Daily Online reported, citing local officials.

Speaking to reporters on Saturday, Singapore's consul-general in Shanghai, Ong Siew Gay, said the families of Mr Quah and Mr Chung have arrived in Jingjiang city - which is near the site of the accident - while the families of the other two Singaporean victims are making their way here.

Mr Quah and Mr Chung's families are waiting for Chinese officials to let them identify the bodies, Mr Ong said, adding that assistance will be provided should the families decide to bring the bodies back to Singapore.

"Their top priority now is to see their loved ones. I believe the Chinese authorities will conduct full investigations and the Singapore companies involved will cooperate with them," said Mr Ong.

The other four foreigners on board are from Malaysia, Japan, India and Indonesia. 

Two of the Singaporean victims were employees of Jurong Marines Services, the tug-towing subsidiary of Singapore's Sembcorp Marine.

The Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Saturday afternoon "the body identification process is ongoing".

"We offer our deepest condolences to the bereaved families who have lost their loved ones in this tragic incident," the ministry said in a statement.

The Singapore-registered tugboat, coded “Wanshenzhou 67”, was lifted out of the water on Saturday morning, 40 hours after it sank.

The incident took place around 3pm on Thursday near a fast-flowing stretch of the river between the cities of Jingjiang and Zhangjiagang, near Shanghai.

Xinhua, citing the JMSA, said the tugboat operators did not complete the compulsory procedures needed for trial operations, nor did they report the boat’s conditions to authorities. The boat sank in the midst of a full circle swinging due to improper handling, the JMSD told Xinhua.

Survivor Wang Chenkai told state broadcaster CCTV that he and a 60-year-old Japanese engineer were testing the boat's engine when the vessel "suddenly slid over".

"Water entered the boat cabin very quickly. In less than 20 seconds, it was completely filled with water," he said from a hospital.

The 30-metre-long boat, with a weight of 368 tonnes, was built by Anhui Bengbu Shenzhou Machinery in October.

kianbeng@sph.com.sg