JINDO, South Korea, April 24 (Xinhua) -- Death toll in the South Korean ferry sinking disaster rose to 162 on Thursday as search operations became faster amid favorable climatic conditions.
In the ninth day into the search, 162 people have been confirmed dead, leaving 140 others still missing. The number of those rescued has been unchanged at 174 since the 6,825-ton ferry Sewol capsized and sank off Jindo Island, the country's southwestern tip, on April 16.
The death toll has been growing as search operations were aided by favorable weather conditions. Tidal currents turned slower since Monday. Waters around Jindo Island are famous for the country's second-fastest currents.
Wind was blowing at a speed of 4-7 m/s in the morning and waves are as high as 0.5 meter. Water temperature is at around 12 degrees Celsius.
On Wednesday alone, 38 bodies were discovered from the submerged vessel, with 36 people found Tuesday and 28 others retrieved Monday.
Hundreds of divers will devote themselves to search bodies, or possible survivors, as the currents are forecast to become faster from Friday. It is expected to rain from Saturday.
Koh Myung-seok, director general of the South Korean Coast Guard, told a press briefing that divers will search mainly into passenger cabins on the third and fourth floors of the five-story vessel, noting a lot of bodies were found in staircases channeling the third and fourth floors on Wednesday.
The vessel was submerged, tilting on the port side at some 90 degrees to the surface. Divers should make a hole on thick walls with specially produced tools to enter the passenger cabins.
Among three blocks of the vessel, search for cabins on the starboard side were completed Wednesday, and divers were focusing on the second block in the middle of the ship. Cabins on the port side had yet to be reached, said Koh, who represents the government-wide disaster response headquarters.
Volunteer divers have been banned from making an underwater search operation due to lack of skill. Among 343 volunteer divers who came to the scene, 16 divers were allowed to plunge into waters but came up less than 10 minutes later from the tough waters. Some volunteer divers were just taking photos without efforts to plunge into waters, the coast guard said.
Family representatives of missing passengers demanded the ban on the volunteer divers from participating in the search operations. Private divers, called technical divers employed by the government, have been only allowed to join the search operation.
Some volunteer divers have claimed that the rescue authorities prevented even technical divers from taking part in the search.
Around 700 coast guard, navy, special forces, firefighting and private divers were conducting search operations in the tough and murky waters, the coast guard said. One navy diver got decompression sickness while diving for a long time.
S.Korean prosecutors raid sunken ferry's owner house, offices
SEOUL, April 23 (Xinhua) -- South Korean prosecutors on Wednesday raided the house of the sunken ferry's owner house and affiliates of the ship's operator for alleged corruption and wrongdoings in running the vessel.
A special prosecutor team, which has been investigating into alleged illegalities of the ship's operator, raided home of the ship's beneficial owner, known as Yoo Byung-eon, local media reported. Full story
President Park likens what sunken ferry's captain did as murder
SEOUL, April 21 (Xinhua) -- South Korean President Park Geun- hye likened what captain and some crew members of the sunken ferry did as murder on Monday, vowing to force those responsible to shoulder legal responsibilities regardless of ranks.
"What captain and some crew members did was like an act of murder that cannot be acceptable and permissible from a common-sense standpoint,"Park said during a meeting with senior secretaries. Full story
Communications between sunken S.Korean ferry, traffic center disclosed
JINDO, South Korea, April 20 (Xinhua) -- Last-minute communications between a sunken South Korean ferry and a vessel traffic center were disclosed Sunday by the pan-government emergency management headquarters. Full story