25 Apr 2014

Race to recover bodies from ferry

6:26 pm on 25 April 2014

Dive teams are racing to pull more than 100 bodies from a sunken South Korean ferry as storm clouds loom and the victims' families press officials to wrap up the recovery effort.

The 6825-tonne Sewol carrying 476 people capsized during a routine 400km journey from the port of Incheon, near Seoul, to the southern holiday island of Jeju in calm weather on 16 April.

Relatives of passengers visited the ferry site on Thursday.

Relatives of passengers visited the ferry site on Thursday. Photo: AFP

Investigations are focused on human error and mechanical failure. The confirmed death toll stands at 181, but 121 people remained unaccounted for, including many students and teachers from Danwon High School.

Gentle tides and good weather have helped the dive teams in recent days, but the search conditions inside the ferry are still challenging and rescuers are only managing to retrieve about 30 bodies a day.

Although all hope of finding any survivors has been extinguished, there is still anger and deep frustration among the relatives over the pace of the recovery operation off the southern island of Jindo, AFP reports.

On Thurday, a group of irate parents detained two high ranking coastguard officials and a minister, accusing them of lying about the recovery operation and demanding they bring in more resources.

Police made no move to intervene and the three made no attempt to get away, reflecting a reluctance to antagonise the relatives in any way at a time of widespread public anger over the official response to the disaster.

The bereaved families have said they want all the remaining bodies removed from the ferry before the weekend - a demand that is unlikely to be met, especially with a bad weather front moving in.

Meanwhile, South Korean investigators said on Friday that life rafts and escape chutes on a sister ship to a sunken ferry were not working properly. Investigators have seized a second ferry for checks belonging to the Chonghaejin Marine Company.