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Father's quest to retrieve his son's remains raises ethics concerns

By Huang Zhiling in Chengdu (China Daily) Updated: 2014-03-17 07:58

The plight of a father who had to pay a large amount of money to retrieve his drowned son's body has sparked widespread debate and focused attention on companies that recover bodies from water.

On March 9, a 22-year-old man from Dayi county, Sichuan, fell into the Xijiang river and drowned. His distraught father sought the services of a recovery company to help him retrieve the body.

Huang Feihu and three crew members found the body on Tuesday.

Huang set a fee of 8,000 yuan ($1,300) per day for their work. If the body was found, the father would be required to pay an additional 10,000 yuan.

After the father agreed, Huang started looking for the body on the morning of March 10 and found it the next afternoon.

After finding it, the crew tied the body to a bridge pier with a rope and asked for the money. Huang became infuriated and punched Huang but eventually gave each of the four a red envelope containing 40 yuan.

The father told his story to a newspaper in Sichuan after the body was returned.

When the story was published, some netizens criticized Huang and his men while others said the father should honor the workers who braved the icy waters to find the body.

"After someone drowns, their family would ask either the police or recovery companies, which employee fishermen, to look for the body," said Yuan Ding, a medical examiner with the Luzhou branch of the Yangtze River Shipping Public Security Bureau.

Luzhou is on the upper reaches of the Yangtze River. Yuan's daily routine involves checking bodies recovered from the river.

"The price fishermen charge for finding bodies ranges from thousands of yuan to tens of thousands of yuan. If someone is poor, fishermen charge less. It all depends," Yuan said.

Long Zehong, a fisherman in Jiayu county, Hubei province, said relatives of a drowned person typically ask local fishermen to search for bodies because they know the tidal movements and can swim.

"Most fishermen in Hubei consider it bad luck to carry bodies on their boats. But they tie ropes around them and pull them to the bank," Long said.

While he criticized Huang and his men for being so money-oriented, he said it was the norm.

This is not the first time body recovery companies have made headlines.

On Oct 24, 2009, two high school students fell into the Jinzhou section of the Yangtze River in Hubei. Fifteen freshmen from Yangtze University in the city formed a human chain and went into the water to rescue the pair. Most of the students could not swim, according to Shi Qianli, a teacher at the university.

The two high school students were rescued but three of the rescuers, all aged 19, drowned.

An unlicensed company charged the university 36,000 yuan to recover the three bodies and added an additional 300 yuan for cigarettes and mineral water. Company employees twice interrupted the efforts before all of the 36,000 yuan arrived from the university.

After the case was reported by the media, Chen Bo, the company boss, was detained for 15 days and fined 1,000 yuan. The 36,000 yuan was returned to the university.

You Liang, a researcher with the Sichuan Academy of Social Sciences, said that most salvage companies set up by fishermen are unlicensed.

"There are no unified rules for their management," he said.

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