Rescuers on Friday searched the middle reaches of the Yangtze river looking for the remains of dozens of people missing after a ferry boat capsized in a collision with a cargo boat.
Following preliminary investigations it was estimated that up to 35 people were aboard the Fuzhou No. 10 ferry when it hit the cargo ship early Thursday morning, Liu Zhongguo, an official at the Fuling city government told AFP.
State press Thursday said around 100 people were on board.
Twelve have survived the wreck, while three bodies have been pulled out of the water, he said.
Local officials were asking villagers along the boat's route if any family members had been on the boat or were missing.
The accident happened near Fuling city, 480 kilometres (288 miles) upstream from the massive Three Gorges Dam, but on the upper end of a huge resevoir now being formed by the hydroelectric project.
State press is saying that up to 23 passengers were dead or missing, based on estimates from the survivors who said up to 35 people had been on the ferry.
"The 23 dead is an estimate of the Maritime Bureau of Chongqing," Cui Gong, an official at the Yangtze River Channel Bureau, told AFP.
"The ferry boat was like a public bus and made a lot of stops, it is very hard to determine exactly how many people were on the boat."
Traffic along the middle reaches of the Yangtze, China's longest river, had been suspended for nearly 70 days as the Three Gorges resevoir began to accumulate water and the finishing touches were added to the dam's massive ship lock.
The ship lock began a trial period of operation this week allowing all boats with a displacement of under 3,000 tons to pass through the locks, dam officials said.
It was unclear if the increased traffic on the river due to the opening of the ship lock played a role in the ferry incident.