Four Crewmembers Missing After Chinese Vessel Hits Bridge and Sinks

China bridge
Jiujiang Bridge which was struck by a cargo ship (Chinese state media)

Published Apr 23, 2024 6:09 PM by The Maritime Executive


Chinese officials report a massive search is underway for four missing crewmembers after a vessel hit a bridge crossing the Xijian river and sunk. Seven of the 11 crew aboard the vessel were rescued overnight in a situation that was very similar to another accident on the river in 2007 that killed at least nine people.

The unidentified vessel was transporting 4,900 tonnes of rolled steel on the river traveling between Fuzhou and Heshan. The area has been experiencing extreme rain conditions and flooding since the weekend with state media reporting at least 10 people are missing from the flooding and at least four killed. In addition, 110,000 residents across Guangdong province have been relocated due to flooding.

The ship hit one of the pillars of the bridge at around 9:20 p.m. local time and the cargo hold reportedly started to flood. The vessel grounded but around 11:40 p.m. is reported to have sunk into the river which is one of the main tributaries of the Pearl River. The crewmembers were reported to have fallen into the swollen river.

The Jiujian Bridge which was struck is well-known as it is 1,682 meters in length (more than 1 mile) and was the first large prestressed concrete cable-stayed bridge in the Asia-Pacific region. It opened in 1988.

An inspection showed abrasions along the pilar and Chinese officials implemented traffic control restrictions on the river. The bridge is undergoing further safety checks. 

The reports are blaming improper operation of the vessel due to the flooding from upstream and strong currents in the river. It is eerily similar to an accident in June 2007 when a vessel loaded with sand struck the Jiujiang Bridge. In that incident, 150 meters (more than 490 feet) of the bridge collapsed into the river while the vessel also sank. Four vehicles that were on the bridge fell into the river and nine people were known to be missing. Chinese officials later reported the sand barge steamed out of the main navigation channel and hit an auxiliary pillar, which could only resist a 40-ton shock. As with today’s accident they blamed the flooding, current, and incorrect operation of the vessel.

In February this year, another small Chinese cargo ship operating in the same area also on the Pearl River system collided with a bridge. A portion of the roadway collapsed on the vessel killing five people who had been driving across the bridge.