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(2nd LD) 10 more bodies recovered from sunken ferry amid high tides

All Headlines 15:50 April 29, 2014

(ATTN: RECASTS title, lead; UPDATES with latest developments in paras 2-6, 9; CHANGES photo)

JINDO, South Korea, April 29 (Yonhap) -- Rescue workers retrieved 10 more bodies from a sunken ferry late Tuesday in desperate search operations against rising tides and strong currents for nearly 100 passengers still missing.

The bodies were recovered from the sunken ferry Sewol on Tuesday afternoon, raising the death toll to 203, according to the Coast Guard. Still, 99 passengers remain unaccounted for.

After recovering four bodies in their overnight job, Coast Guard, Navy and civilian divers have been struggling to re-enter the ill-fated ship that capsized on April 16 in waters off South Korea's southwestern island of Jindo.

"Our job will focus on searching the right side of the fourth floor of the boat ... as we've failed to gain access to the side because the ship was sunken with the right side touching the bottom," an official of the state response team said.

Of 476 passengers aboard, mostly high school students on a field trip, 174 people, including the captain and most of the crew, were rescued shortly after the accident, but no one has been found alive since.

Search efforts have been hampered by bad weather and strong underwater currents at this time of spring tides.

Spring tides refer to tides in which the difference between high and low tide is the greatest. Currents are stronger by about 40 percent during spring tides compared with a period of neap tides when the difference is the least.

The spring tides are expected to last until Friday, officials said.

<YNAPHOTO path='C:/YNA/YNACLI~1/Down/Article/AEN20140429002352315_01_i.jpg' id='' title='' caption='Search operations are under way in waters off South Korea&apos;s southwestern island of Jindo to find 99 passengers missing in the sinking of the ferry Sewol nearly two weeks ago. Of the 476 people aboard, 203 have been confirmed dead. (Yonhap) '/>

A U.S. Navy recovery vessel, the USNS Safeguard, also arrived at the site of the shipwreck later in the day to help with the recovery efforts. The ship had left from the southern port city of Busan on Monday.

A diving bell, which is an airtight chamber used for transporting divers underwater, may be put into operation later in the day, while wire cutters belonging to the Navy may be used to break open doors that have been blocked by obstacles, officials said.

President Park Geun-hye visited the government's official mourning altar in Ansan, just south of Seoul, to pay her respects to the victims.

After laying a chrysanthemum and burning incense, she held a moment of silence as she observed the rows of portraits mounted on the altar. The portraits had been moved from a temporary altar that closed on Monday.

As of Tuesday, the altar displayed the photos of 159 victims, including 152 students and four teachers of Ansan's Danwon High School. Portraits have been added to the altar with each confirmed death.

Of all the passengers, 325 were Danwon students on a field trip to the southern resort island of Jeju.

Hundreds of thousands of people have visited mourning altars across the nation to pay tribute to the dead.

Prime Minister Chung Hong-won, who has offered to step down over what many see as the government's poor handling of the disaster, was in Jindo where he was scheduled to meet with officials, including Oceans and Fisheries Minister Lee Ju-young, over the ongoing recovery efforts.

Park has said she will accept the resignation offer after the situation has been brought under control.

Investigators, meanwhile, looking into the cause of the deadly accident focused on studying material they seized from the situation rooms of the local Coast Guard and the regional fire department on Monday to determine whether they responded appropriately upon receiving the Sewol's distress call.

Investigators have also questioned officials from the ferry's operator and other related companies over possible irregularities and flaws in the vessel's modifications, cargo capacity and safety equipment.

Prosecutors have arrested the Sewol's 69-year-old captain, Lee Jun-seok, and about a dozen other crew members on suspicion of negligence of duty and abandoning passengers.

hague@yna.co.kr

graceoh@yna.co.kr
(END)

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