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(3rd LD) Death toll in ferry sinking tops 150 as hope dwindles

All Headlines 16:14 April 23, 2014

(ATTN: CHANGES headline, lead, photo; UPDATES with more information in 2-6 paras)

JINDO, South Korea, April 23 (Yonhap) -- Divers retrieved scores of bodies from a capsized South Korean ferry Wednesday as hope had all but vanished that isolated pockets of air might be able to support some of the 150 passengers still missing.

The death toll from the sinking of the 6,825-ton ferry Sewol surpassed 150 as Coast Guard, Navy and civilian divers recovered bodies from cabins on the third and fourth decks, where most of the missing are believed to have been trapped.

As of 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, 152 people had been confirmed dead while 150 others remained missing, said officials of the government task force handling the disaster.

The divers successfully entered a third-deck cafeteria, where most of the students are believed to have been located at the time of the accident, late Tuesday night but did not find anyone, the officials said.

The team said search workers will continue to work around the clock as weather conditions have improved, mobilizing a total of 212 boats, 34 aircraft and some 550 personnel.

Weather in the area continues to be mild, with waves reaching around 0.5 meter in height, similar to a day earlier, but the water in the area still remains murky, the officials said.

<YNAPHOTO path='C:/YNA/YNACLI~1/Down/Article/AEN20140423001553315_01_i.jpg' id='' title='' caption='Ambulances carrying bodies retrieved from the capsized ferry Sewol leave a temporary morgue at a Jindo Island port in southwestern South Korea on April 23, 2014. (Yonhap) '/>

A group of 50 civilian divers using surface supplied equipment have been added to the search-and-rescue operations as they can stay under water for nearly one hour, said the officials.

The divers are to use an air compressor on the surface that continually provides air through a hose, which is different from general diving where a diver's equipment is completely self-contained and there is no link to the surface.

The team, meanwhile, said it has decided to withdraw remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and other advanced equipment, including the "Crabster" robot, from the scene due to the strong tidal currents.

The team had earlier deployed two ROVs and robots designed for undersea exploration to search inside of the sunken vessel.

The families of the missing, meanwhile, began discussing funerals for student victims and vowed to stay at the scene until everyone has been found.

"We are aware that there are families starting to get worried as other families have been leaving the scene after finding their missing loved ones," said a representative of the family members.

"After holding funerals, we will come back and stay here until the last missing person is found," he added.

The operations have transitioned from rescue to recovery and identification as hopes of finding any survivors have faded rapidly considering that no passenger has been found alive since April 16, the day of the sinking.

Of the 476 people on board, only 174 passengers, including the ferry's captain and most of its crew, were rescued.

On Monday, family representatives staying in a gymnasium on Jindo Island pressured the rescue team to wrap up the search in the next few days while the weather is favorable.


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