A passenger ship carrying 458 people, mainly elderly Chinese tourists, has sunk in the Yangtze river in what could be one of China’s worst disasters in years.

WUHAN, (China) — Rescuers pulled six survivors to safety after hearing cries for help Tuesday from inside a capsized cruise ship that went down overnight in a storm on China’s Yangtze River with 458 people aboard, most of them elderly, state broadcaster CCTV said.

At least other 12 people are known to have survived, including the captain and chief engineer, and five people were confirmed dead in the accident late Monday during a cruise from Nanjing to the southwestern city of Chongqing, the broadcaster said.

The ship, named Dongfangzhixing, or Eastern Star, capsized late on Monday after being caught in a cyclone in the Jianli section in Hubei Province of the Yangtze River, according to the Yangtze River navigation administration.

The microblog of the official People’s Daily newspaper said some passengers were still inside the Eastern Star, while the official Xinhua news agency said rescuers could hear people calling for help from inside the four-deck ship.

State television showed a rescuer on the capsized hull with a blow torch, apparently preparing to cut into the ship, while dozens of rescue boats battled strong wind and heavy rain to reach the stricken vessel.

Among those on board the ship were 406 tourists, aged from around 50 to 80, on a tour organised by a Shanghai tour group, and 47 crew members, the People’s Daily said.

Citing the Yangtze River navigation administration, Xinhua said those rescued from the Eastern Star included the ship’s captain and engineer, who said the vessel sank quickly after being caught in what it said was a cyclone. State radio reported that the ship sank within about two minutes and that no distress call had been issued.

The official People’s Daily said seven people had swum to shore to raise the alarm.

Divers pulle a 65-year-old woman from the hull of the passenger ship carrying 458 people that capsized on China's Yangtze River on Tuesday morning. (CNS photo via Reuters)

Divers pulle a 65-year-old woman from the hull of the passenger ship carrying 458 people that capsized on China’s Yangtze River on Tuesday morning. (CNS photo via Reuters)

President Xi and Premier urges all-out rescue efforts

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang have called for “all-out efforts” to save lives following the sinking of a passenger ship with 458 people onboard in the Hubei section of the Yangtze River on Monday night.

Chairing a meeting to direct the rescue and emergency response work as he took a plane to the site, Li said saving lives should be the top priority.

He instructed a State Council work team to rush to the site to guide search and rescue work. He urged all rescuers to “carry out search and rescue work at all costs and properly handle the aftermath”.

The Ministry of Transport, the China National Tourism Administration and other departments have been ordered to mobilize all resources available to speed up the search and rescue work and help treat rescued people.

Li called for regular and transparent updates on the rescue and investigation, and said authorities must ensure adequate funding and personnel to conduct rescue work.

Poor weather is hampering the search for China ship survivors

Rescue teams searched frantically for survivors in China’s Yangtze River on Tuesday morning, hours after a passenger ship carrying over 450 people capsized in rough weather on Monday night, according to state-backed news outlets.

However, media reports say that unfavorable weather conditions and low visibility were hampering ongoing search-and-rescue operations.