Hundreds missing after ship sinks in China's Yangtze River

Hong Kong (CNN)A desperate rescue effort. More than 400 people unaccounted for in a sunken cruise ship. The captain and chief engineer in custody.

China was facing up to an unfolding disaster in the murky waters of the Yangtze River on Tuesday.

The cruise ship, the Eastern Star, capsized late Monday in stormy weather along a stretch of the Yangtze that winds through central China's Hubei province, authorities said.

The bad weather hampered initial search and rescue efforts, according to state media. By Tuesday morning, divers were in the water and rescue workers were walking along part of the vessel's upturned hull that was sticking out of the water.

The divers knocked on the ship under the water and heard responses from inside, a state-run local newspaper reported. Welders were trying to cut the cabin open, it said. 

85-year-old rescued alive

One rescue worker was seen lying on the exposed part of the hull, tapping the metal with a small hammer and apparently listening out for responses.

Chinese soldiers carry a boat to search for survivors on June 2.
Chinese soldiers carry a boat to search for survivors on June 2.

Early in the afternoon, an 85-year-old woman was pulled from the water, official media reported.

Thirteen survivors and five bodies have been recovered so far, according to the Hubei Daily, a state-run newspaper.

The survivors include the captain and chief engineer, who have been taken into custody for questioning by police, according to state media.

But the fates of the hundreds of other people aboard the ship was unclear.

Passengers' relative: 'I am anxious to find them'

Their relatives were desperately seeking news.

Yan Mao told CNN that his mother, aunt, and two cousins were on the ship after boarding it at Nanjing, the eastern Chinese city where the cruise began Thursday. 

Yan said he was on his way to Wuhan, a major city roughly 150 kilometers (95 miles) from the area where the ship is reported to have gone down.

"I am anxious to find them," he told CNN. "Of course I believe they are alive, otherwise I wouldn't go there."

Yang Min, a resident of Shanghai whose parents and child were on the ship, said he was anxiously waiting with many other families for updates at a local government office in the city.

Most of the 406 passengers on the cruise were aged between 50 and 80, according to a list published by state media. The youngest was only 3 years old.

There were also 47 crew members and five travel agency workers on board, according to state media.

Chinese Premier arrives at site

The Eastern Star capsize around 9:30 p.m. Monday during a storm over the section of the river that flows through Hubei's Jianli county, China's state-run news agency Xinhua reported, citing the Yangtze River navigation administration.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang chairs a meeting to direct search and rescue work on June 2.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang chairs a meeting to direct search and rescue work on June 2.

It was making a multistop journey from Nanjing to Chongqing, a city more than 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) inland.

The sunken ship is now located about 3 kilometers from the shore where the river is around 15 meters (50 feet) deep, China's state-run broadcaster CCTV reported.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and other senior officials arrived Tuesday at the site of the disaster to oversee the emergency response. 

The Yangtze is the third-longest river in the world, stretching 6,300 kilometers (3,915 miles) from its source in the mountains of Tibet all the way to the East China Sea.

The images of the upended ship evoked memories of the sinking of the Sewol, the South Korean passenger ferry that sank last year, taking the lives of more than 300 people, most of them high school students.

CNN's Shen Lu, Yuli Yang and Tim Schwarz contributed to this report.


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