Ministry of Transport confirmed that as of Tuesday afternoon, 12 people out of the 458 people on board have been rescued.
It said those rescued included the captain and the chief engineer and a 65 year-old woman.
The ministry said the ship was not overloaded and was equipped with sufficient life jackets. All those rescued were wearing life jackets.
It said most of the passengers on board were senior citizens aged 50 to 80, adding that the ship capsized when it was caught in a tornado.
The ministry sad more than 1,000 police officers had also been dispatched to the scene.
Meanwhile, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang arrived the scene to supervise rescue work along with two other senior officials.
He called for “all-out rescue efforts” and better safety measures,
Hubei’s provincial emergency office confirmed that a tornado was detected in the area between 9 pm and 10 pm on Monday.
It said the section of the river where the accident occurred is a place where strong storms are known to occur.
The office said emergency response efforts were earlier hindered by strong wind and heavy rain.
The ship was en route to south-western China’s Chongqing city from Nanjing, the capital of the eastern province of Jiangsu.
The two cities are some 1,200 kilometres apart.
The ship built in 1994 it had a capacity of more than 500 passengers.
Passengers’ relatives gathered Tuesday outside a Shanghai travel agency that had booked many of the trips and then headed to a local government office looking for answers.(NAN)