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S. Korea puts last-ditch effort to search sunken ferry

2014/04/24 09:56

JINDO, South Korea, April 24 (Yonhap) -- With the death toll from the sunken South Korean ferry surpassing the number of those still missing eight days after the disaster, divers on Thursday continued their grueling task of retrieving more bodies on the last remaining day of low tide.

The government emergency task force said it has dispatched the largest number of Coast Guard, Navy and civilian workers to search the inside of the 6,825-ton Sewol that capsized and sank in southwestern waters last Wednesday.

The confirmed death toll rose to 159, but 143 others were still unaccounted for. The missing, most of whom were high school students on a school trip, are believed to be trapped inside the fourth floor of the upturned vessel in waters off Jindo Island.

Of the 476 people on board, only 174 passengers, including the ferry's captain and most of its crew, were rescued.

The number of corpses retrieved from the submerged vessel has risen sharply since the weekend as weather condition turned favorable, though divers still battled low underwater visibility to find those missing.

As high tide and rain are expected from Friday, relatives with diminishing hopes of finding more survivors pressured the government to finish the search by Thursday, because no one has been found alive since the ship's sinking.

Weather in the area was forecast to be mild, with waves expected to reach around 0.5 meter, and wind blowing at a speed of 4 meters to 7 meters per second.

The rescue crew last week positioned three large cranes near the scene, but the task force said it will lift the capsized ship from the sea only with the consent of all families of the missing.

Among 29 members of the ferry's crew, 20 including Captain Lee Joon-seok have been arrested or detained on charges of negligence of their duties and abandoning the passengers.

The 69-year-old captain is facing sharp criticism as he told the passengers to stay inside the cabin even though the ship was severely tilting and later fled the ship with the crew ahead of other passengers.

Furthermore, it became known that the first distress call to authorities was made by a student on board, not by a crew member. Coast Guard on Thursday said the Danwon High School student who made the first call was confirmed dead as his body was retrieved from the cabin on the fourth floor the previous day.

On Wednesday, prosecutors raided offices of the operator of a sunken ferry and its affiliates as part of a widening probe into the cause of the disaster and whether there were irregularities related to modification made to the ship among other considerations.

ejkim@yna.co.kr

(END)

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