World / Asia-Pacific

Body of third Chinese passenger on S.Korean ferry found

(Xinhua) Updated: 2014-04-24 11:21

JINDO, South Korea  -- The Chinese embassy said Thursday rescuers have recovered the body of a Chinese female passenger drowned after a South Korean ferry capsized, raising the death toll of Chinese nationals in the disaster to three.

A total of four Chinese passengers were on board the ill-fated ship that submerged on April 16 en route from the western port city of Incheon to the southern resort island of Jeju.

Rescuers had already found the bodies of two Chinese male victims. The fourth Chinese national, a middle school girl, remains unaccounted for.

Death toll in the South Korean ferry sinking disaster rose to 162 on Thursday as search operations became faster amid favorable climatic conditions.

In the ninth day into the search, 162 people have been confirmed dead, leaving 140 others still missing. The number of those rescued has been unchanged at 174 since the 6,825-ton ferry Sewol capsized and sank off Jindo Island.

The death toll has been growing as search operations were aided by favorable weather conditions. Tidal currents turned slower since Monday. Waters around Jindo Island are famous for the country's second-fastest currents.

Wind was blowing at a speed of 4-7 m/s in the morning and waves are as high as 0.5 meter. Water temperature is at around 12 degrees Celsius.

On Wednesday alone, 38 bodies were discovered from the submerged vessel, with 36 people found Tuesday and 28 others retrieved Monday.

Hundreds of divers will devote themselves to search bodies, or possible survivors, as the currents are forecast to become faster from Friday. It is expected to rain from Saturday.

Koh Myung-seok, director general of the South Korean Coast Guard, told a press briefing that divers will search mainly into passenger cabins on the third and fourth floors of the five-story vessel, noting a lot of bodies were found in staircases channeling the third and fourth floors on Wednesday.

The vessel was submerged, tilting on the port side at some 90 degrees to the surface. Divers should make a hole on thick walls with specially produced tools to enter the passenger cabins.

Among three blocks of the vessel, search for cabins on the starboard side were completed Wednesday, and divers were focusing on the second block in the middle of the ship. Cabins on the port side had yet to be reached, said Koh, who represents the government-wide disaster response headquarters.

Volunteer divers have been banned from making an underwater search operation due to lack of skill. Among 343 volunteer divers who came to the scene, 16 divers were allowed to plunge into waters but came up less than 10 minutes later from the tough waters. Some volunteer divers were just taking photos without efforts to plunge into waters, the coast guard said.

Family representatives of missing passengers demanded the ban on the volunteer divers from participating in the search operations. Private divers, called technical divers employed by the government, have been only allowed to join the search operation.

Some volunteer divers have claimed that the rescue authorities prevented even technical divers from taking part in the search.

Around 700 coast guard, navy, special forces, firefighting and private divers were conducting search operations in the tough and murky waters, the coast guard said. One navy diver got decompression sickness while diving for a long time.

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