BEIJING, China, Jun 2- Chinese rescuers on Tuesday searched for hundreds missing after a passenger ship carrying more than 450 people capsized in the storm-hit Yangtze river, with several survivors reportedly confirmed trapped in the upturned hull.
State broadcaster CCTV said five bodies had been recovered and 12 people rescued from the Dongfangzhixing, or “Eastern Star” which sank late Monday en route from the eastern city of Nanjing to the southwestern city of Chongqing.
Footage showed rescue workers tapping on the ship’s hull, part of which remained above water, with some holding welding gear.
“Rescuers knocked on the ship and received responses,” the Hubei Daily said. “Three people were found alive.”
Teams of police worked to get small motor boats in the water in order to search for survivors in heavy rain, while other emergency personnel looked on from the shore.
CCTV said the 250-feet (76.5-metre) long vessel had floated three kilometres (1.9 miles) down river after it capsized in the Jianli region of central Hubei province.
The cause of the sinking was not immediately clear, but the captain and chief engineer, who were among those rescued and are being questioned by authorities, both reportedly said it had been caught in a “cyclone”.
There were 458 people on board when the ship capsized at 9:28 pm (1328 GMT), CCTV said, including 406 Chinese passengers, five travel agency workers and 47 crew members.
The Hubei Daily quoted an 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.
The vessel was owned by a firm that operates tours in the scenic Three Gorges dam region, which is some distance from the accident site.
The accident occurred in the middle reaches of the Yangtze, which at 6,300 kilometres is China’s longest.
– ‘All-out efforts’ –
State news agency Xinhua said China’s President Xi Jinping issued an order for “all out rescue efforts” while Premier Li Keqiang deployed a work team from the State Council, China’s cabinet, to direct the search and rescue work.
The report added that the transport ministry and other departments were told to throw all available resources into the rescue.
CCTV said that Li had already arrived at the scene Tuesday.