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(LEAD) All-out efforts to search sunken ferry continue amid weak currents

2014/05/07 16:56

JINDO, South Korea, May 7 (Yonhap) -- Rescue workers continued their intensive search Wednesday for 34 people still missing in the sinking of a ferry 22 days ago amid favorable weather conditions and slow tidal currents.

The 6,825-ton ferry, the Sewol, plying between Incheon, west of Seoul, and the southern resort island of Jeju, sank in waters off South Korea's southwestern island of Jindo on April 16. Of the 476 people on board, 268 have been confirmed dead, with 174 others rescued on the day of the tragedy.

Coast Guard, Navy and civilian divers worked in shifts to open all of the 64 passenger cabins where the missing are thought to be trapped, officials said, adding that they plan to wrap up the search into other convenience facilities comprised of singing rooms, a dining hall and lounge by Saturday.

The Herculean task of retrieving bodies repeatedly halted and resumed overnight as tidal currents became faster than forecast, but divers entered the sunken vessel in the morning as waters slowed down.

The currents are forecast to slow down for four days through Saturday. Waves in the area were expected to reach 0.5 meter, with wind blowing at a speed of 6 to 9 meters per second.

Authorities said they have dispatched military doctors near the sinking site, a day after the death of a civilian diver during the search operation.

On Tuesday, a 53-year-old civilian worker named Lee Kwang-wook fell unconscious shortly after diving into waters around 25 meters deep. The veteran diver from Undine Marine Industries was pronounced dead after being transferred to a nearby hospital.

"One naval surgeon, one military doctor, and two emergency medical technicians were deployed to a ship near waters off the sinking site," Park Seung-kee, a spokesman for the government emergency response team, told a press briefing. "We are still reviewing whether to deploy more civilian doctors."

   The team has also asked fishermen to search the waters near the sinking site amid fears that bodies and belongings of the passengers could be swept away from the sunken vessel.

Despite installing stow nets and having tow-boats trawl closer to the site, authorities have retrieved life vests and what appeared to be some of the victims' personal belongings on Jindo's shoreline.

Tidal currents are slow in waters near the sinking iste of the Sewol on May. 7, 2014 as rescue workers continued their intensive search for 34 people still missing. (Yonhap)

Tidal currents are slow in waters near the sinking iste of the Sewol on May. 7, 2014 as rescue workers continued their intensive search for 34 people still missing. (Yonhap)

khj@yna.co.kr

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