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Jianli, China (AFP)- Authorities admit there is no hope for more survivors from a capsized Chinese cruise ship, as cranes on Friday slowly raised the sunken vessel with exhausted relatives preparing themselves for further agony.

Just 14 of the 456 people on board the Eastern Star were rescued after it sank on the Yangtze River late Monday, and “comprehensive research and analysis of the facts” showed the chances of finding anyone still alive were “increasingly slim”, a transport ministry spokesman said.

“Based on the general judgement that there is no possibility of survival” authorities decided to right the ship, Xu Chengguang told a press conference late Thursday.
So far, 97 people are confirmed dead, Xu said Friday, but hundreds were still missing, many believed trapped in the ship’s hull.

The current tally of survivors means that the final toll of dead and missing is likely to reach 442, making the tragedy China’s worst shipping disaster in nearly 70 years, state media have reported.

Rescuers operating massive cranes battled from Thursday night to right the Eastern Star at the site of the disaster in Hubei province’s Jianli county.

Daybreak demonstrated some success, with state media images showing the ship upright but with much of it still below water.

Xu also said that with the aim to “search for and find the missing people in the shortest possible time” and “protect the dignity of the deceased to the greatest extent”,
authorities wanted to lift the ship “as soon as possible”, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

Workers on Thursday welded giant hooks onto the hull, an AFP reporter witnessed, as they prepared to lift the 76.5 metre long (250 feet) vessel with a reported weight of 2,200 tonnes in a delicate and risky operation that could have destabilised the wreck and sent it further down the river.

Xu said Friday that the next step is to raise the ship completely above the surface and start searching through it.

Families of those on board gathered Thursday night in a public square in Jianli, clutching candles and flowers to pray for those lost in the disaster.