JINDO, South Korea - All 15 crew members involved in the navigation of the ill-fated South Korean passenger ferry Sewol are reportedly in custody facing criminal negligence charges.
Two helmsmen and two members of the steering crew were detained late on Friday, Associated Press (AP) reported on Saturday. Eleven others, including the captain, had been detained earlier.
The 15 crew members face charges of criminal negligence and of failing to help passengers, said the AP report.
Meantime, concerns are growing among anguished families that the bodies of those who died may never be found, as search teams suspended work on Saturday because of bad weather, Agence France-Presse (AFP) said.
A looming storm and high tides put a temporary halt to operations to recover the remains of more than 100 people still missing over a week after the Sewol capsized, AFP said.
"Over the weekend, strong wind and rain is expected in the Jindo area", a coastguard spokesman told journalists. "As efforts to find the missing people are becoming protracted, there are growing concerns among their families that bodies might be lost for good", he said.
On Saturday, a US navy rescue and salvage vessel, the USS Safeguard, arrived at Jindo, AFP journalists on the scene said. The vessel has “divers and other necessary equipment aboard, but it remains to be seen how the ship can contribute to the ongoing efforts to retrieve bodies", a US military spokesman told AFP.
The confirmed death toll on Saturday stood at 187, with 115 unaccounted for - many bodies are believed trapped in the ferry that capsized on April 16 with 476 people on board.
Although all hope of finding survivors has been extinguished, there is still anger and deep frustration among relatives of the missing over the pace of the recovery operation.
Frogmen have battled strong currents, poor visibility and blockages caused by floating furniture as they have tried to get inside the upturned vessel, which rests on a silty seabed, said AFP. The challenging conditions have meant divers are unable to spend more than a few minutes in the ship each time they go down.
Even so, they are coming across horrifying scenes in the murky water, including one dormitory room - that would normally have held around 31 people - packed with the bodies of 48 students wearing lifejackets. Around a quarter of the 187 bodies recovered so far have been found in waters outside the sunken vessel, and there are fears that some of the missing may have drifted free from the wreck. The gathering storm was intensifying worries that remains could be scattered when the sea is churned by strong winds.
Authorities - wary of the palpable anger among relatives - have mobilised eight trawlers and installed 13-km-long nets anchored to the seabed across the Maenggol sea channel to prevent the dead being swept into the open ocean, according to AFP. Dozens of other vessels, including navy ships as well as helicopters, have also been scouring the site and beyond. Three fisheries patrol vessels were being pressed into the search operation, expanding the hunt up to 60km from the scene of the disaster. Police and local government officials will also be mobilised to scour coastal areas and nearby islands, a coastguard official said.