SEOUL, April 19 (Xinhua) -- Three bodies were found Saturday morning within the passenger cabins of a South Korean ferry, which sank off the country's southwestern coast on Wednesday, the South Korean Coast Guard said.
The coast guard said in a press release that three bodies were discovered at around 5:50 a.m. on the fourth floor of the five- story vessel by private divers with the naked eye, the first discovery within the hull since the 6,825-ton passenger ferry capsized and sank off the Jindo Island near the southwestern tip of South Korea.
The divers tried to break open the doors, but it failed due to limited diving period and floating obstacles.
Two coast guard divers tried to pry their way into passenger compartments on the third floor at 11:08 p.m. Friday, but they also failed as various obstacles prevented them from entering the cabins.
The third and fourth floors are composed of passenger cabins, and there are freight compartments on the second floor and a dining room on the first floor. Divers succeeded in reaching the first and second floors Friday.
Around 87 passengers stayed at the cabins on the third floor, with 353 put up on the fourth floor and seven on the fifth floor.
Coast guard, navy and private divers have tried overnight in turn to make their way into passenger compartments on the third and fourth floors where possible survivors were believed to have been trapped.
The divers arrived at the third and fourth floors of the submerged vessel but had yet to enter the passenger cabins due to difficulties in opening the doors, various obstacles, low visibility and darkness.
The underwater search operations were suspended from 11:30 p.m. Friday due to rapid currents and high waves, but the operations were resumed from 4 a.m. Saturday.
Five decades of divers conducted search operations overnight 30 times, and 172 rescue ships and 30 airplanes were mobilized to the site of the accident, the coast guard said.
Rescue conditions were expected to worsen from Saturday afternoon as strong winds were forecast to blow. The wind speed may rise to 8-12 m/sec Saturday afternoon from 6-9 m/sec in the morning at the site of the accident.
The coast guard said that weather conditions for search and rescue were not bad as of 10 a.m. given the 0.5-1 meter of wave height. The upturned hull sank in the waters some 10 meters deep.
On Saturday, 652 coast guard, military and private divers will try to enter into the hull 40 times, while 176 rescue ships and 28 airplanes will search waters near the submerged ferry.
More than 20 ships have been cleaning up waters near the capsized ferry as oil leaked out of the ship, the coast guard said.
Of the 476 passengers on board, 29 have been confirmed dead and 174 rescued, leaving 273 people still missing. No survivor has been reported yet.
The death toll rose to 29 as a female passenger's body in her 70s was spotted 150 meters away from the submerged vessel at 11:54 p.m. Friday when divers were conducting nighttime search operations.
Among the passengers were 325 high school students and 15 teachers on their way for a four-day field trip. The ship departed from South Korea's western port city of Incheon Tuesday night for the southern resort island of Jeju.
Among the rescued, 75 were students from the Danwon High School in Ansan, a Seoul suburb. Eleven students have been confirmed dead, with 239 others still missing.