By DIU QIAN
JIANLI (China Daily Show) – While divers and emergency workers search for the missing and dead after a passenger ship capsized in the Yangtze River, grieving tour operators are slowly coming to terms with the potential impact on their long-term profits.
At risk are hundreds of cost-cutting measures, regularly used by cruise companies on China’s longest river to boost revenues at the expense of health and safety.
“We fear the worst, such as a wide-ranging inquiry,” admitted a shaken executive with Yanzi River Culture Corporation. “Unfortunately, the government is still giving little information as to how deeply this will bite into our net worth.”
Carrying 456 passengers, the four-story Eastern Star overturned within minutes Monday night during extremely stormy weather, which may offer some cover for its beleaguered owners. “On the other hand, people might wonder why the ship persisted in its scheduled timetable, despite hazardous weather conditions, concluding that operators place profit above any concerns about passengers,” noted a tourism expert.
Officials in Hubei have quickly moved to contain the damage to their reputations, barring all journalists from the disaster area and harassing tearful relatives who spoke to foreign media.
But as time passes, hope of a miraculous revelation that might somehow abrogate their responsibility is slowly fading for the Eastern Star’s management. “We can only wait and pray this doesn’t affect our other business interests,” said a concerned director for the Chongqing Oriental Ferry Company.
Fellow tour companies echoed the concerns. “If we have to start paying for more experienced staff and properly training the crew in modern safety procedures, it could cause incalculable suffering among our shareholders,” said one senior manager.
Questioned about instigating proper, regular maintenance to their aged, rusting vessels, most executives were still refusing to contemplate such a cost. But, according to one shaken executive, “There’s still hope. We just have to prepare for the worst, while hoping for the best – that regulators continue accepting bribes once public interest fades.”