China Yangtze boat capsize tragedy
Rescue workers transport on a barge the covered bodies of victims who died after a tug boat sank in the Yangtze River (FILE PHOTO) Aly Song/Reuters

Emergency crews are attempting to rescue more than 400 people after a passenger ship sank on China's Yangtze River in Jianli - Hubei province.

The boat, called Dongfangzhixing ("Eastern Star"), was travelling between Jiangsu province capital Nanjing and Chongqing city in the south west of the country.

According to China's official Xinhua News Agency 444 people were aboard the Eastern Star when it sank including 397 passengers, 42 crew members and five travel agency employees. Seven people have been rescued so far but strong winds and heavy rain are said to be hampering the rescue efforts.

The captain and the chief engineer, who are among those rescued, said the ship had been caught in a cyclone and sank quickly, Xinhua said.

Xinhua said rescue work was difficult due to bad weather, strong winds and heavy rain. Strong wind and heavy rain is hampering the continuing search for survivors, with weather forecasts predicting the heavy rain will continue.

CCTV reported that 150 millimeters of rain had fallen in the region over the past 24 hours. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is reported to be travelling to the site of the boat sinking.

The People's Daily, the Communist party's official newspaper, published a photograph of a vessel that is similar to the Eastern Star and is operated by the same boat operator on its Twitter account.

Twenty-two people died on the river in January, when a tugboat undergoing tests capsized near Zhangjiagang, in Jiangsu province.