Colleagues of the captain of the Eastern Star, who is at the centre of the debate over why the cruise ship went down with hundreds of lives feared lost, have described him as an experienced and professional officer who took his responsibilities seriously. Zhang Shunwen, 52, was in charge of the cruise ship on Monday night when it sank during a heavy storm in the Yangtze River. He was among the few people known to have survived of the 456 on board. His wife, Mo Bing, was the head of the service crew on the ship and is among the missing. Chen Yilong, the captain of the Eastern Prince, a sister ship of the vessel that sank, told the South China Morning Post that Zhang was a skilled and professional captain. A retired chief engineer with the cruise company, who declined to give his full name, also described Zhang as a highly professional officer. “He takes great responsibility for his job,” the former engineer said. “He gets on well with his other colleagues.” Zhang and the chief officer on the ship have been detained by the police for questioning. Zhang was rescued after floating in the Yangtze River for about two hours, but some relatives of missing passengers have questioned why he did not stay with the ship to help evacuate people on board. No alarm was raised and the authorities were not alerted. Witnesses have said the ship went down within a matter of minutes. Questions have also been raised over why the captain did not drop anchor and try to wait out the storm as at least one other vessel in the area did. Zhang’s colleagues have declined to comment as the investigation into the sinking is still underway. Peng Keyun, a retired worker at the cruise ship company, told the news website Thepaper.cn that he was saddened by Zhang’s fate. “He’s an honest man,” he was quoted as saying. Zhang became captain of the Eastern Star in 2008. He began his career at the age of 17 and passed his maritime school training in 1984. He rose through the ranks over three decades to become a captain after starting out as a junior sailor, according to the former engineer. His crew had not previously been involved in any serious marine accidents and the captain only had three records for minor safety errors several years ago.