An elderly tourist is rescued by divers from a capsized passenger ship in the Hubei section of China's Yangtze River, June 2, 2015. The ship carrying 458 people sank Monday night in the Yangtze River, China's longest. (Photo: China News Service/Liu Zhen)
Twelve people have been rescued so far and another five confirmed dead after a cruise ship carrying 458 people, most of whom were elderly, sank in China's Yangtze River overnight.[Special coverage]
The Eastern Star, which left the eastern Chinese city of Nanjing at 1:15 p.m. Thursday bound for Chongqing Municipality on the upper reaches of the river, sank "within one or two minutes" of being caught in freak weather in Jianli, Hubei Province, according to the ship's captain and chief engineer who survived the incident.
The sinking could be the worst in China for decades. The water is 15 meters deep where the four-storey ship sank at around 9:30 p.m. Monday in the Jianli section of the Yangtze, according to the river navigation administration.
At around 1 p.m., divers rescued a woman aged 65 from inside the ship. The ages of those onboard the Eastern Star range from 3 to 83 years, with most in their 60s and 70s. Three survivors, aged 37, 42 and 50, are being treated in a Hubei hospital.
The maritime rescue center in Yueyang in neighboring Hunan Province, received an alarm call from the crew of another boat who saw two people in the water at 10:10 p.m. The center immediately sent a patrol boat and the two were picked up at 11:51 p.m. One of the survivors said he was the captain of the Eastern Star.
Wang Yangsheng, senior official with the Yueyang Maritime Rescue Center, said the incident happened, "so fast that the captain did not even have the time to send out a distress signal." There were 406 passengers, five tour guides and 47 crew onboard the ship. More than 400 people boarded in Nanjing, including more than 100 tourists with state-owned Shanghai Xiehe Travel Agency. Most of those onboard are from Shanghai and neighboring Jiangsu Province.
On Tuesday morning, families gathered at the dock where the ship departed last week, waiting anxiously for news of their loved ones.
The 76 meter ship has been in service for nearly 20 years and can carry up to 534 people. It is one of five luxury vessels operated by the state-owned Chongqing Wanzhou Dongfang Shipping Company. Waterways officials in Chongqing have no record of company involvement in any pervious sinking.
Police, maritime authorities and fire departments have dispatched a total of 36 ships to the scene and another 117 boats have joined the operation. More than 1,840 soldiers, 1,600 police and 1,000 civilians have been mobilized.
According to China Central Meteorological Station on Thursday, most of the Yangtze will be subject to downpours for the next 10 days, with heavy rain expected where the search is underway.