China’s Communist Party leaders are sensitive to the handling of disasters as any missteps or delays can lead to criticism of their effectiveness to govern.
The Hubei Daily said that about 150 boats — including about 100 fishing vessels — and more than 3,000 people were involved in the rescue effort.
Relatives of the passengers have started to clamour for information outside the boat operator’s office.
“Family members are waiting for information now, there are many of them,” said a female employee at the Chongqing Eastern Ship Company, who declined to give her name.
“Currently company leaders are at the site organising the rescue, we don’t know the situation. We are just waiting, waiting, comforting relatives of those on board, and waiting,” she told AFP.
Pictures on social media showed crying relatives outside the office of a Shanghai tour operator which had sent passengers on the boat.
Reaction to the sinking was relatively muted on Chinese social media, though some critical voices emerged on Sina Weibo, a Chinese version of Twitter.
“When the South Korean ship sank, it was on TV 24 hours a day,” said one user, referring to the Sewol ferry disaster in April last year that left 304 people dead including 250 pupils from the same high school.
Another user called for calm and said that blame should not be assigned too hastily.
“At this moment, the captain is automatically held accountable by some people,” the post said.
“But the ship sank within two minutes, it’s an instinctive reaction for the captain to save himself. Just hope more people will be rescued and the weather monitoring system to be improved.”
China’s high-speed trains and air networks are the backbone of national transportation. But recent maritime accidents include the January sinking of a tugboat on the river between the eastern cities of Jingjiang and Zhangjiagang, which killed 22 people, including eight foreigners.