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Death toll in South Korea ferry disaster crosses 120

South Korean passenger ship

The confirmed death toll from South Korea’s ferry disaster crossed 120 on tuesday, as dive teams, under growing pressure from bereaved relatives
South Korean passenger shipJindo: The confirmed death toll from South Korea’s ferry disaster crossed 120 on tuesday, as dive teams, under growing pressure from bereaved relatives, accelerated the grim task of recovering more bodies from the submerged vessel.

Improved weather conditions and calm seas spurred their efforts, but underwater visibility was still very poor, requiring divers to grope their way blindly through the cabins and corridors of the ferry that sank last Wednesday.

Nearly one week into the rescue and recovery effort of one of South Korea’s worst peacetime disasters, close to 200 of the 476 people who were aboard the 6,825-tonne Sewol – most of them schoolchildren – are still unaccounted for.

The official toll stood at 108, with 194 still missing.

The distraught victims’ families gathered in the morning at the harbour of Jindo island – not far from the disaster site – awaiting the increasingly frequent arrival of boats with the most recently recovered bodies.

With all hope of finding any survivors essentially extinguished, this has turned to growing impatience with the effort to locate and retrieve the bodies of those trapped.

“I just want my son back,” said the father of one missing student. “I need to be able to hold him and say goodbye. I can’t bear the idea of him in that cold, dark place.”

The disaster has profoundly shocked South Korea.

The sense of national grief has been underwritten by an equally deep but largely unfocused anger that has been vented towards pretty much anyone in authority.

Coastguard officials have been slapped and punched, senior politicians – including the prime minister – pushed and heckled, and rescue teams criticised for their slow response.

If there is a chief hate figure, it is the ferry captain, Lee Joon-Seok, who was arrested at the weekend and charged with criminal negligence and abandoning his passengers.

Six members of his crew are also under arrest.

President Park Geun-Hye, who faced a hostile crowd when she met relatives on Jindo last week, has described the actions of Lee and his crew as being “tantamount to murder”.

The Sewol capsized after making a sharp right turn leading experts to suggest its cargo manifest might have shifted, causing it to list beyond a critical point of return.

The large death toll has partly been attributed to the captain’s instruction for passengers to stay where they were for around 40 minutes after the ferry ran into trouble.

By the time the evacuation order came, the ship was listing so badly that escape was almost impossible.

A transcript released Sunday of the crew’s final communications with marine transport control illustrated the sense of panic, confusion on the bridge before the ferry sank.

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