Hundreds of people continue to be missing nearly 24 hours after a packed cruise ship carrying 458 passengers sank in a turbulent Yangtze river in southwest China on Monday night.
China dispatched five choppers and 140 frogmen to assist in the search and rescue mission. Till late on Tuesday evening, teams had managed to rescue 15 passengers and recover five bodies, state media reported.
The Eastern Star, which left the eastern Chinese city of Nanjing at 1.15 pm Thursday was 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.
Both have been taken into police custody, state media reported.
Family members of passengers aboard the capsized boat scuffled with officials in Shanghai on Tuesday, angry that they were not being told what happened to the vessel and their loved ones.
About 60 people had gathered at a travel agency office in Shanghai that handled the bookings for the cruise. That was locked and they were later escorted to the Shanghai local government office building where they were asked to wait inside a room. Scuffles broke out when a group of relatives, furious over the lack of information being given to them, started demanding more answers from officials.
Chinese Navy said it has dispatched more than 230 soldiers, led by Donghai Fleet deputy commander Gu Xiangbing, to assist the search and rescue mission, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
With chances of recovering the missing, many of them elderly citizens on their way to a holiday in Shanghai, it could turn out to be the worst tragedy of its kind in China in decades.
There were 406 passengers, five travel agency tour guides and 47 crew members aboard, according to the administration.
Watch: Passenger ship sinks in China's Yangtze river with hundreds missing
According to the official news agency, Xinhua the ages of those onboard the Eastern Star range from 3 to 83 years, with most in their 60s and 70s.
A 65-year-old woman was rescued on Tuesday afternoon.
The Yangtze is China’s longest river and a heavy traffic ships and trawlers flow through it.
Pesident Xi Jinping has ordered all-out rescue efforts while Prmeier Li Keqiang, along with Vice Premier Ma Kai and State Councilor Yang Jing have left for the site of the accident from Beijing to direct the rescue and emergency response work.
“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 the company’s involvement in any pervious sinking,” the Xinhua report said.
(With agency inputs)