CHINA HAS MOUNTED A RESCUE OPERATION AFTER A PASSENGER SHIP CARRYING MORE THAN 450 PEOPLE SANK IN THE POWERFUL YANGTZE RIVER AFTER BEING HIT BY STORMY WEATHER.
Broadcaster CCTV said that one body had been recovered, and just 10 people rescued so far from the Dongfangzhixing, or Eastern Star which sank late Monday en route from the eastern city of Nanjing to the southwestern city of Chongqing.
In a report that raised hopes of more survivors, it said that rescue divers knocked on the boat and detected responses from inside, but did not elaborate.
The cause of the sinking in the Jianli region of central Hubei province was not immediately clear, but CCTV said it was an accident.
Among those rescued were the captain and chief engineer of the vessel, who both reportedly said it had been caught in a “cyclone”.
There were 458 people on board when the vessel sank at 9:28 pm (1328 GMT), CCTV said, including 406 Chinese passengers, five travel agency workers and 47 crew members.
China News Service cited Yao Wenge, of the Nanjing maritime affairs administration, as saying 406 passengers went on board in the eastern city of Nanjing.
The Hubei Daily newspaper quoted an unnamed official with the Yangtze maritime affairs administration as saying that one group of passengers sent by a tourism agency in Shanghai were aged between 50 and 80 years.
According to CCTV, the vessel – which measures 76.5 metres in length – is capable of carrying up to 534 people.
The sinking occurred in the middle reaches of the Yangtze, which at 6,300km is China’s longest river.
The Xinhua news agency said China’s President Xi Jinping issued an order for “all out rescue efforts” to proceed while Premier Li Keqiang deployed a work team from the State Council, China’s cabinet, to direct the search and rescue work.
Li, together with Vice Premier Ma Kai and State Councillor Yang Jing, were on their way to the site, the news agency said, adding that the transport ministry and other departments were told to throw all available resources into the rescue.
China’s Communist Party leaders are sensitive to the handling of disasters as any missteps or delays can lead to criticism of their effectiveness to govern.