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Divers comb sunken ferry after recovering 13 bodies from inside

2014/04/20 10:15

JINDO, South Korea, April 20 (Yonhap) -- Rescue divers combed the sunken ferry Sewol off South Korea on Sunday after retrieving more than a dozen bodies overnight from inside the underwater wreck for the first time since the sinking, as hopes fade for any survivors among hundreds of people remaining missing.

A total of 13 bodies have been recovered from inside the ship since Navy and Coast Guard divers pulled the first of them Saturday night, bringing the confirmed death toll to 46 and reinforcing fears that many of the 256 people still unaccounted for are trapped inside.

A total of 476 people were aboard the 6,825-ton ship, mostly students from a high school near Seoul, when it sank Wednesday last week, and 174 of them have since been rescued. The ferry was on its way to the southern resort island of Jeju from the western port of Incheon.

Divers focused on searching passenger compartments of the ship. Strong currents and low visibility underwater have hampered diving operations, and officials said they will take maximum advantage of brief periods occurring a few times a day when currents slow down.

Weather in the area was relatively good on Sunday.

More than four days since the sinking, hopes were quickly diminishing of finding anyone alive among those believed to be trapped inside the wreckage. Experts have said people could possibly survive for 72 hours if there were air pockets in the compartments.

Angry families of those missing began a sit-in on the island of Jindo near the sinking site while some of them attempted to march toward the presidential office in Seoul. Families are upset that the government mishandled the disaster and has not done enough to save people.

The government has been under strong criticism for bungling its initial response to the accident. It has been unable to figure out exactly how many people were aboard the ship, and it revised the figure, as well as the numbers of those rescued and missing, many times.

An investigation is under way into what exactly caused the ship to go down when weather was good. Police have arrested the ship's 69-year-old captain, Lee Joon-seok, and two other crew members Saturday on suspicions of negligence and violation of maritime law.

An inexperienced third mate was steering the ferry at the time of the sinking.

An initial focus has been on suspicions that the ship made too sharp a turn for unclear reasons, leading its cargo, which has not been fastened tightly enough, to shift to one side and getting the entire ship to lose its balance.

An official of the probe team said they have almost ruled out the possibility of the boat hitting a submerged rock. Initial reports said the vessel could have hit an underwater rock based on survivors' accounts that they heard a thumping sound before it started to list.

The captain has also been a target of public outrage as he was one of the first to leave the sinking ferry. Survivors also said that they were told to stay put where they were several times even when the ship was tilting and sinking.

(END)

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