06/02/2015, 00.00
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Passenger ship sinks in the Yangtze with more than 440 people missing

The Dongfangzhixing left Nanjing for Chongqing. Near the Jianli section (Hubei Province), it capsized for reasons still unknown, perhaps a tornado. Out of 458 people on board, only 13 have been rescued, including the ship’s captain and chief engineer who were detained by the police for questioning.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – More than 440 people are still missing after a passenger ship sank on the Yangtze River headed from Nanjing to Chongqing.

The Dongfangzhixing or ‘Eastern Star’ was apparently hit by a tornado during a heavy storm and sank within about two minutes in the Jianli section of the river, in Hubei province.

Rescuers are still working to save survivors, but so far, only 13 people have been found. They include the captain and chief engineer who were detained by the police for questioning.

State television CCTV said Premier Li Keqiang was on his way to the site.

As rescue efforts continue, the Hubei Daily reported that divers, who rescued a 65-year-old woman reported to be in good health, thought there might be some survivors inside the partially sunken ship. “Rescuers knocked on the ship and received responses,” the newspaper said.

The paper also reported that about 150 boats, including about 100 fishing vessels, and more than 3,000 people were involved in the rescue effort.

When the vessel sank, 458 people were on board, including 406 Chinese passengers, 5 travel agency workers and 47 crewmembers.

State media reported that no distress call had been issued. Instead, seven people swam to shore to raise the alarm.

The 406 tourists, mainly aged from about 50 to 80, were on a tour organised by a Shanghai travel group.

Each had paid about 2,700 yuan (US$ 435) for the tour. The group had originally planned to go back to Shanghai on 9 June.

Relatives of the missing gathered in front of the travel agency, which however appeared closed this morning with a note on its door saying that those responsible for the tour were at the scene.

The Yangtze is China’s most impressive river. Floods and unusual waves have killed tens of thousands of people over the years, and accidents on its waters are not uncommon.

At 6,300 kilometres, it is the longest river in Asia and the third in the world. Originating in the glaciers of Tibet, it reaches Shanghai where it joins the East China Sea.

Economic activities connected to the river represent 20 per cent of the country’s GDP.

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