(LEAD) China's Xi offers 'deep condolences' on ferry disaster in S. Korea
BEIJING, April 18 (Yonhap) -- Chinese President Xi Jinping sent his "deep condolences" to victims of a ferry disaster in South Korea, saying Beijing is ready to provide search-and-rescue assistance to Seoul.
In a letter sent to South Korean President Park Geun-hye on Thursday night, Xi said he was "shocked to learn" of the ferry disaster, according to a statement posted on the website of China's foreign ministry.
Xi "expressed deep condolences to the victims and the families of the missing and injured persons," the statement said.
"I'm highly concerned about this. China stands ready to provide the necessary support and assistance to South Korea," Xi said.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang also called South Korean Prime Minister Chung Hong-won and extended his condolences over the accident, the Chinese foreign ministry in a separate statement.
The 6,825-ton ferry Sewol, which means time and tide in Korean, was heading to the southern resort island of Jeju when it capsized, two hours and 20 minutes after sending a distress call at around 9 a.m. on Wednesday.
The number of confirmed deaths in the ferry sinking rose to 25 early Friday, as a growing number of bodies were found floating in the sea apparently due to current shifts.
Hundreds of divers were battling strong tides and murky waters, but they were unable to make their way deeper into the ill-fated ferry. Of 475 passengers and crew on the ferry, 179 people have been rescued and 271 are still missing.