A Chinese river cruise vessel with 450 passengers on board has capsized in bad weather leaving at least five people dead and hundreds missing.

The boat was owned by the Chongqing Eastern Shipping Corporation. which runs tours to the Three Gorges river canyon area along the Yangtze river.

Most of those on board were tourists aged around 50 to 80 on a tour organised by Shanghai company Xiehe Travel, according to local media reports.

The four-deck Eastern Star was carrying 405 Chinese passengers, five travel agency staff and 47 crew.

The captain and chief engineer, who were both rescued, are reported to have been detained by police.

They were quoted earlier as saying that the boat had been caught in a cyclone and sank within minutes. Many people were reportedly asleep at the time.

The boat was sailing from the eastern city of Nanjing to Chongqing in the south-west when it sank in the Damazhou section of the Yangtze in Jianli county at about 9.30pm local time yesterday (Monday).