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South Korea ferry death toll reaches 121

More bodies found but 181 remain missing, as rescue operations are ramped up under better weather conditions.

Last updated: 22 Apr 2014 22:17
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Family of missing passengers of the sunken Sewol ferry identify some of the bodies found so far [EPA]

The total known death toll from the South Korean capsized ferry has now reached 121, as more bodies were brought back to Paengmok Port on Tuesday night.

Of the 479 passengers and crew on board, only 174 people have been rescued and 181 remain missing, presumed drowned.

Of those aboard, 339 were children and teachers on a high school outing.

The authorities were poised to attempt to lift the vessel using cranes last on Tuesday, but with so many bodies still to be found, they were not yet ready to begin the operation.

"We still have a lot of missing bodies. Shouldn't we find as many as possible before moving on?" asked Kim Hyungi-gi, the main representative for the victims' families.

The families have set a deadline of Thursday for the retrieval of all the bodies.

The Sewol ferry sank last Wednesday on a routine trip south from the port of Incheon to the traditional honeymoon island of Jeju.

Crew detained

Meanwhile, four crew members were taken into police custody on Monday and were paraded, heads bowed and hiding their faces, before TV cameras on Tuesday.

The detained crew members said they did their best to launch life rafts, and one suggested possible technical reasons for the ship capsizing.

"We tried to gain access to the rafts but the whole ship was already tilted too much", one crew member said when asked why only one of the Sewol's 46 life rafts had been used.

"We tried to launch the life rafts but it was hard to get to where they were," another said.

The 6,825-tonne Sewol had 29 crew, including its captain Lee Jeon-Sook.

Twenty of them escaped the ferry as it sank last Wednesday morning, and there has been public outrage at reports they were among the first to evacuate while hundreds remained trapped in the vessel.

One crew member, apparently an officer, suggested the ferry had a structural flaw that made it difficult to regain equilibrium once it had been lost.

The ship was built in 1994 in Japan and purchased by the Cheonghaejin Marine Company in 2012.

The officer also mentioned "some errors" with the steering system. The Sewol capsized after making a sharp right turn.

This led experts to suggest its cargo manifest might have shifted, causing it to list beyond a critical point of return.

Lee and two other crew members were arrested over the weekend and charged with criminal negligence, before the arrests on Monday.

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Source:
Agencies
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