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Ferry sinks in Yellow Sea, killing hundreds

A ferry sinks in the Yellow Sea off the coast of China, killing hundreds of people on this day in 1999. The ship had caught fire while in the midst of a storm and nearly everyone on board perished, including the captain. The Dashun, a 9,000-ton vessel, was transporting passengers from the port city of Yantai in China’s Shandong province to Dalian, near Korea, on November 24. It was snowing and windy when the ship, carrying approximately 300 passengers and 40 crew members, left Yantai. Just a short way into the journey, a fire broke out on board. Although the exact cause is unknown, many believe that the gas tank on a vehicle the ship was carrying may have ruptured. The fire forced the passengers to the lifeboats. A distress signal was sent out at 4:30 p.m (apparently officials already knew about the problems on board because a passenger had called for help on a cell phone), but the stormy weather delayed rescue efforts until the next morning.

Reportedly, Ma Shuchi, a crew member, swam six miles to safety, though many others died after jumping into the freezing water. Even most of those who made it to the lifeboats ended up freezing to death as they waited for rescue ships. By the time rescuers appeared, most could only try to retrieve the bodies from the sea. Only 36 people survived. The fire on the Dashun was not put out until the evening of November 25; the ship then drifted toward shore before sinking about a mile off the coast. This was the second disaster of November 1999 for the Yantai Car Ferry Company; another ship, the Shenlu, had sunk off the coast of Dalian just weeks earlier. Four officers of the company, including the general manager, were later brought to trial in China. The capsizing of the Dashun was the worst maritime accident in China since 133 people had died in a ferry collision on the Yangtze River in 1994.