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South Korea ferry disaster: Angry relatives clash with police as more bodies found

Published on Apr 20, 2014 10:52 AM
 
A family member of a missing passenger on the ferry Sewolcrying next to a temporary morgue in Jindo on April 20, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

JINDO, South Korea (REUTERS) - Angry relatives of hundreds of missing inside a sunken South Korean ferry clashed with police on Sunday morning as coastguard divers retrieved more bodies from the ship and the official number of dead rose to 49.

A rescue operation has now turned into a grim search through the stricken vessel to recover the remaining 253 passengers, most of them schoolchildren, who are still unaccounted for after Wednesday's capsize.

Up to 100 people gathered on the island of Jindo in the southwest of the country, the centre of the rescue effort, and tried to march across a bridge to the mainland to take their protest to the capital of Seoul.

Police formed two lines to prevent them reaching the bridge and relatives pushed and shoved the lines. "Bring me the body," said weeping mother Bae Sun Ok as she was comforted by two policemen at the bridge.

Until Saturday night, divers from the South Korean coastguard had struggled to get into the passenger quarters of the ferry which sank in 27 metres of water in calm seas while on a well-travelled route from the port city of Incheon to the South Korean holiday island of Jeju.

Of the 476 passengers and crew, 339 were either pupils or teachers from a high school in Ansan, a commuter city outside Seoul.

The sinking looks set to be the country's worst maritime disaster in 21 years in terms of loss of life.

Hundreds of despairing relatives gathered in a gymnasium in the port city of Jindo in southwestern Korea have spent four days and nights awaiting news of their loved ones on the ship.

The vice-principal of the school, who was on the ferry and survived the capsize, hanged himself and was discovered on Friday outside the gymnasium in Jindo.

Early reports suggest that the ferry, on a 400-km voyage, may have turned sharply and then listed before capsizing.

Investigations are looking at how the cargo was stowed, the safety record of the ship operator and the actions of the crew.

Three crew members, including the 69-year-old captain, were arrested on Saturday and charged with crimes relating to negligence.

Witnesses say the captain, Lee Joon Seok, and other crew members left the sinking ship before many of the passengers and that orders to evacuate were either not given, or not heard.

Lee said he feared that passengers would be swept away by the ferocious currents in the area if they leapt into the sea, but has not explained why he left the vessel.

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