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Death toll in South Korea ferry disaster crosses 120

Apr 22 2014, 20:09 IST
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SummaryThe confirmed death toll from South Korea's ferry disaster rose sharply to more than 120 today

The confirmed death toll from South Korea's ferry disaster rose sharply to more than 120 today as divers speeded up the grim task of recovering bodies from the submerged ship and police took two more of its crew into custody.

Better weather and calm seas spurred their efforts but underwater visibility was still very poor, forcing divers to grope their way blindly though the corridors and cabins of the ferry that capsized and sank last Wednesday.

Nearly one week into one of South Korea's worst peacetime disasters, close to 200 of the 476 people who were aboard the 6,825-tonne Sewol -- most of them schoolchildren -- are still unaccounted for.

The official toll stood at 121, with 181 still missing.

Distraught families of victims gathered in the morning at the harbour on Jindo island -- not far from the disaster site -- awaiting the increasingly frequent arrival of boats with bodies.

In the initial days after the Sewol went down, their anger was focused on the pace of the rescue effort.

With all hope of finding any survivors essentially gone, this has turned to growing impatience with the effort to locate and retrieve the bodies of those trapped.

"I just want my son back," said the father of one missing student. "I need to be able to hold him and say goodbye. I can't bear the idea of him in that cold, dark place."

The disaster has profoundly shocked South Korea, a proudly modernised nation that thought it had left behind large-scale accidents of this type.

The sense of national grief is accompanied by an equally deep but largely unfocused anger that has been vented towards pretty much anyone in authority.

Coastguard officials have been slapped and punched, senior politicians -- including the prime minister -- pushed and heckled, and rescue teams criticised for their slow response.

If there is a chief hate figure, it is the ferry's captain Lee Joon-Seok, who was arrested at the weekend and charged with criminal negligence and abandoning his passengers.

Six members of his crew are also under arrest and prosecutors said two more were taken into police custody on Tuesday.

President Park Geun-Hye, who faced a hostile crowd when she met relatives on Jindo last week, has described the actions of Lee and his crew as being "tantamount to murder".

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