At least 22 people have been confirmed dead after a newly built tugboat capsized on a test voyage in eastern China.

Rescuers managed to save only three people, all Chinese, early on Friday, a full 14 hours after the ship went down on Thursday.

"Water entered the boat cabin very quickly, in less than 20 seconds it was completely filled with water," Wang Zhenkai, a survivor, told state television from his hospital bed.

The vessel's owner, parts suppliers and engineers were among the 25 people aboard for the test.

The victims included four Singaporeans, an Indian, an Indonesian, a Japanese and a Malaysian. The accident happened on the Yangtze River, the state-run Xinhua News Agency said. The 14 other victims were Chinese.

An official at the Jiangsu maritime search and rescue centre, who declined to give his name, confirmed the number of the dead.

Swift currents had hampered the operation, and it was not until Saturday morning when rescue teams were able to pull the vessel to the surface and to shallow waters for a thorough search inside.

First and last journey

The newly built 30-metre long Wanshenzhou 67 was on a test voyage on Thursday in the river's Fubei Channel in Jiangsu province when it suddenly turned over.

The provincial government said the boat was undergoing trials without properly completing the required procedures and without first reporting the condition of the ship, as required by regulations.

A Singapore foreign ministry spokesman told the AFP news agency on Friday that the vessel was registered in the city-state and four of its nationals were on board.

The Japanese and Indian consulates in Shanghai each confirmed to AFP that one of their nationals had also been on board.

Xinhua cited local authorities as saying two others on board were from Malaysia and Indonesia.

Source: Agencies