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Ship with over 450 on board sinks in China’s Yangtze river

China ship

Beijing: A cruise ship carrying 458 people, mostly elderly, capsized due to a cyclone in Asia’s longest river Yangtze in China’s Hubei province as rescuers today searched for survivors with hundreds missing and at least five dead in one of the country’s worst shipping tragedies.

The four-storey Eastern Star ship, which left the eastern Chinese city of Nanjing at 1:15 PM (local time) on 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, according to the ship’s captain and chief engineer who survived the incident last night.

The ship’s captain and chief engineer were later arrested pending investigation.

Fourteen people have been rescued so far and another five confirmed dead while 439 were missing after the cruise ship carrying 458 people sank in the 6,300 km-long Yangtze River overnight, state-run CCTV reported.

In a last ditch effort, Chinese government has ordered pumping of oxygen into the hull of the overturned vessel after rescuers heard tapping sounds, raising hopes of pulling out more survivors alive.

State television showed the overturned hull of the massive ship as rescuers were seen trying to hear tapping sounds to locate people caught up in areas where water had not entered.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has ordered a working team of the State Council to rush to the site to guide search and rescue efforts, following which Premier Li Keqiang rushed to the area.

Li ordered the rescue teams to start pumping oxygen into the hull after the tapping sounds were heard.

The exact cause of the sinking was not immediately clear, but the captain and chief engineer both reportedly said it had been caught in a “cyclone”.

Divers rescued a woman aged 65 from inside the ship past midnight. An 80-year-old woman was rescued this afternoon. The ages of those on board the Eastern Star range from 3 to 83 years, with most in their 60s and 70s.

Three survivors, aged 37, 42 and 50 respectively were being treated at a Hubei hospital, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

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” after the 76-metre ship was hit by a high-power cyclone.

There were 406 passengers, five tour guides and 47 crew on board the ship.

Police, maritime authorities and fire departments have dispatched a total of 36 ships to the scene and another 117 boats have joined the rescue operation. More than 1,840 soldiers, 1,600 police and 1,000 civilians have been mobilised but bad weather was hampering rescue efforts.

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