Hundreds of people are unaccounted for and six are confirmed dead following the sinking of a Chinese cruise ship in the Yangtze River, in what could be the country's worst shipping disaster in more than 70 years.
Only 12 people are known to have survived so far, according to China's state broadcaster CCTV, which said a rescue team of more than 1,000 armed police officers, 30 soldiers, 140 navy divers, and dozens of medical staff had been sent to the site. Bad weather is hindering their attempts to reach the upturned ship, which is reportedly lying in water 50 feet deep.
More than 450 people were traveling on the Eastern Star when it capsized while traveling overnight from the city of Nanjing to the city of Chongqing in the southern Chinese province of Hubei. Most were tourists aged between the ages of 50 and 80 but some younger people and children were on board.
The underside of the ship's hull was left exposed above the water after it sank and local media reported rescue workers could hear cries for help from inside the hull about 12 hours after it went down.
The official Xinhua News Agency quoted the captain and chief engineer as saying the ship went down quickly after being caught in a cyclone. They are now in police custody according to CCTV. The Communist Party-run People's Daily said the ship sank within two minutes.
Families of those aboard the ship gathered at a travel agency in Shanghai that was involved in organizing the cruise, later traveling to a government office to demand information from the government on how the tragedy played out.
Huang Yan, a 49-year-old woman from Shanghai, wept as she told a reporter she believed her husband and his 70-year-old father were aboard the ship but hadn't received any confirmation from the government. "Why did the captain leave the ship while the passengers were still missing?" she asked. "We want the government to release the name list to see who was on the boat."
The Chinese government announced on Tuesday that Premier Li Keqiang and Vice Premier Ma Kai were travelling to the disaster site to personally oversee and direct the rescue operation. Past tragedies have often had political ramifications, with incidents like this year's Shanghai New Year's eve stampede and the January sinking of a tugboat on the Yangtze exposing gaps in safety precautions and compliance.
Cruises on major rivers are common in China and accidents of this scale are not common, reported Reuters. In the worst previous incident like this in China, a steamship blew up on the Huangpu river in southeast China in 1948, killing more than 1,000 people.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Photo via Weibo/PLA Daily