SEOUL (AFP) - South Korea has asked Japan and China to inform it about any bodies that wash up on beaches, reports said on Monday, as fears grow that some of those who died when a ferry sank may never be found.
Divers trying to search the wreck of the upturned Sewol, which capsized on April 16 with 476 people on board, have been frustrated for a third-straight day by atrocious weather and dangerous conditions.
Despite more than 60 hours of operations since Friday, only one more body has been recovered, leaving 114 still unaccounted for. The confirmed death toll from one of the country's worst-ever maritime disasters stood Monday at 188. Most of the missing and dead were high school students.
Strong currents and stormy weather have hampered the search of the wreck and worsened fears that bodies could drift free and be scattered.
A series of nets have already been thrown up in seas around the ferry, but no finds have yet been reported.
Mr Park Seung Gi, a spokesman for the government's Joint Task Force, which is co-ordinating actions, vowed on Monday to redouble efforts to prevent bodies getting lost in the sea.
Special teams have been set up to search underwater around the sunken vessel, as well on the sea surface, nearby islands and shores, he said.
"We will try our best to find bodies by using all our resources including helicopters, warships, patrol ships and search personnel," Mr Park told reporters.
The search will concentrate on an 8km radius around the wreck, Yonhap news agency said, citing officials, but inquiries will also be made further afield.
"We have asked China and Japan to contact us if they, by any chance, find any unidentified bodies washed up on shore," it quoted one rescue official as saying.
In deeply Confucian South Korea, the proper burial of bodies - often in the deceased person's home town - is considered a way to show respect for the dead and to allow their soul to rest in peace.
Twelve days on from the disaster, divers have only been able to search around a third of the 111 cabins on the sunken ferry.
Waterlogged debris, cramped conditions and poor visibility is making their gruesome task very difficult, say officials, with several frogmen reporting injuries or decompression sickness.