JINDO, South Korea, April 23 (Xinhua) -- The search and rescue operations for bodies and possible survivors from the sunken South Korean ferry will last as demanded by families of the victims, the rescue headquarters said Wednesday.
"Opinions of (the victims') families will be respected (most) as far as the rescue period is concerned," Koh Myung-seok, director general of the South Korean coast guard, told a press briefing.
Koh, who represents the government-wide disaster response headquarters, said that the government will save the last single life in the sunken vessel if anyone is alive, but he said that it is difficult to confirm whether there are air pockets remaining inside the ferry.
During the initial days of search and rescue operations, hopes were running high that people in air pockets will survive as they can stay there by getting part or most of the body out of the water.
The eighth day into search, such hopes were turning into fears that most of possible survivors, not all, might have been dead by the protracted exposure to cold water, causing hypothermia to them.
Water temperature around Jindo Island, near which the 6,825-ton ferry Sewol capsized and sank on April 16, was between 10-13 degrees Celsius. Experts said people can survive in the waters for as long as three hours, but there was no rule of thumb on how long people can survive in such temperatures.
Some warned that air pockets could have disappeared earlier within the vessel as air is dissolved in water. Others said that if the high school students on board the ship, who must have been terrified and shocked by the sinking, moved more than usual, it could have raised the rate of heat loss.
The ferry carried 476 passengers, two-thirds of whom are Danwon High School students, when it capsized.
As of 7:30 p.m. local time, 150 people have been confirmed dead, while 152 others were still missing. The number of those rescued has been fixed at 174 since the first day of the disaster.