Chinese villagers watch as rescue teams head out to search for survivors of a passenger ship carrying more than 450 people which sunk in the Yangtze river, off Jianli, in China's Hubei province, on June 2, 2015 (AFP Photo)

Beijing (AFP) – Divers racing to find survivors rescued a 65-year-old woman on Tuesday after a Chinese ship sank with more than 450 mainly elderly people in the storm-tossed Yangtze river, raising hopes more people can be found alive.

She was among 13 people saved so far from the Dongfangzhixing or “Eastern Star” which sank late Monday en route from the eastern city of Nanjing to the southwestern city of Chongqing, state broadcaster CCTV said.

Five bodies had been recovered.

Footage showed rescue workers tapping on the ship’s hull, part of which remained above water, with some holding welding gear and others ropes.

“Rescuers knocked on the ship and received responses,” the Hubei Daily said. “Three people were found alive.”

The state-run Xinhua news agency said the woman was pulled from the boat after midday on Tuesday and CCTV described her as in “good physical condition”.

President Xi Jinping ordered “all-out rescue efforts” while Premier Li Keqiang had already arrived at the scene, state media said.

Most passengers were aged over 60, according to a manifest cited by the Nanjing-based Oriental Guardian newspaper.

Teams of police worked to get small motorboats in the water to search for survivors in heavy rain, while other emergency personnel looked on from the shore.

CCTV said the 250-feet (76.5-metre) long vessel had floated three kilometres (1.9 miles) down river after it capsized in the Jianli region of the central province of Hubei.

The cause of the sinking was not immediately clear. The captain and chief engineer, who were among those rescued and are being questioned by authorities, both reportedly said it had been caught in a “cyclone” and sank within a minute.

There were 458 people on board when the ship capsized at 9:28 pm (1328 GMT), CCTV said — 406 Chinese passengers, five travel agency workers and 47 crew members.

The vessel was owned by a firm that operates tours in the scenic Three Gorges dam region, some distance from the accident site.

The ship started operations in 1993 and would be retired in three years to meet regulations, the 21st Century Business Herald quoted an unnamed former senior executive with the Chongqing Eastern Ship Company as saying

The accident occurred in the middle reaches of the Yangtze, which at 6,300 kilometres is China’s longest river.