SEOUL (AFP) - Dangerous conditions suspended recovery operations at the site of South Korea's ferry disaster for a third day on Monday, delaying the search for 29 people still missing nearly one month after the ship sank.
"The operation remains suspended due to high waves, but divers are ready to resume their work if conditions improve," coast guard spokesman Ko Myung Suk told a daily briefing.
The confirmed death toll stood at 275, with 29 still unaccounted for after the 6,825-tonne passenger ferry Sewol capsized and sank off the southern coast on April 16.
Divers have been unable to access the submerged vessel since Saturday morning, with strong tides and heavy swells pushing conditions beyond the safety limit.
There is intense pressure on the recovery teams to wrap up the grim task of pulling every body from the ferry as soon as possible. The families of those still missing oppose raising the vessel until every body has been retrieved.
But the search, in near-zero visibility, is becoming increasingly dangerous, with some partition walls on the ship warping and at risk of collapse.
"We will put the priority on the safety of divers when they search through dangerous areas," Mr Ko said.
The Sewol was carrying 476 people when it sank after listing sharply to one side and then rolling over. Of those on board, 325 were children from a high school on an organised trip to the southern resort island of Jeju.
Initial investigations suggest the ferry was carrying up to three times its safe cargo capacity. The Sewol's regular captain, who was off duty on the day of the accident, has told prosecutors that the ferry operator - Chonghaejin Marine Co - "brushed aside" repeated warnings that the 20-year-old ship had stability issues following a renovation in 2012.
Five Chonghaejin officials, including the company's head, have been arrested on various charges including manslaughter, negligence and breaches of safety regulations.