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(2nd LD) Ferry with 476 passengers sinks off south coast

All Headlines 11:40 April 16, 2014

(ATTN: CHANGES headline, lead, dateline; UPDATES with more information throughout; ADDS photo)

SEOUL/JINDO, South Korea, April 16 (Yonhap) -- A passenger ship carrying more than 470 people sank off South Korea's southern coast on Wednesday, prompting a massive rescue operation involving coastguard and military vessels and helicopters.

A total of 476 people, mostly high school students on a school trip, were aboard the 6,325-ton vessel when it sent out a distress signal at around 8:58 a.m. in waters 20 kilometers off the island of Byeongpoong, Lee Jae-youl, a Ministry of Security and Public Administration official, told a press briefing.

A total of 147 passengers were rescued from the sinking ferry as of 11:00 a.m., Lee added.

The ferry set off from the western port of Incheon on Tuesday and was to arrive at the southern resort island of Jeju later on Wednesday, the official said.

The cause of the accident and the condition of those rescued were not immediately known.

TV footage showed the ill-fated ship careened over 45 degrees on the port side.

The Navy dispatched 22 vessels and a Lynx helicopter for rescue and search operation, while preparing to send Navy special forces and underwater demolition team to rescue passengers who jumped into waters with life jacket on according to the captain's announcement.

The Air Force dispatched a C-130 military transport aircraft carrying life boats, while the Army sent about 10 helicopters and the emergency rescue teams, military officials said.

President Park Geun-hye ordered maximum efforts to rescue all of the passengers, stressing that all available Navy, Coast Guard and other vessels nearby should be mobilized to makes sure that not a single life is lost.

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