Twenty-four hours after the ill-fated Eastern Star overturned due to a freak cyclone, merely five bodies have been retrieved while 14 people were rescued.

The four-storey ship bound for Chongqing Municipality, southwest China, from the eastern Chinese city Nanjing – sank after being caught in a cyclone at around 9:28 pm yesterday on the Jianli section of the Yangtze River in Hubei Province.

The vessel sank "within one or two minutes" of being caught in bad weather in Jianli, according to the ship's captain and chief engineer who survived the incident last night. Both have been arrested for questioning.

Hopes were rekindled when over 140 divers scoured through the murky waters of the 6,300 km-long Yangtze River and examined various parts of the ship which lay overturned as they managed to rescue three persons by cutting through parts of the hull.

Transport Minister Yang Chuantang said 15 people were rescued and five were confirmed dead in the capsize.

State television showed the overturned hull of the massive ship, measuring 76.5 metres long, 11 metres wide and 3.1 metres deep and could carry up to 534 people, as rescuers were seen trying to hear tapping sounds to locate people caught up in areas where water had not entered.

The cruise ship was carrying 406 Chinese tourists, mostly in the 50 to 80 years age group, five travel agency workers and 47 crew members.

More than 1,840 soldiers, 1,600 police and 1,000 civilians have been mobilised but bad weather and rain was hampering rescue efforts.

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