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Toll rises to 259 in South Korean ferry sinking

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Toll rose to 259 Monday in the South Korean ferry disaster as divers were struggling to enter passenger cabins blocked by floating objects. Fourty-three others still missing, officials said.

There have been no survivors reported since 174 people were saved April 16, Xinhua reported. The passenger ship Sewol sank off the country’s southwest coast 20 days ago. The 476 passengers aboard the ill-fated vessel included 325 high school students and 24 teachers on their way for a class trip.

Koh Myung-seok, spokesman of the pan-government accident response center, told a press briefing that 11 more bodies were recovered from passenger cabins on the third and fourth floors of the five-storey ship Monday morning. Among 64 cabins where bodies were believed to be trapped, search for 63 compartments have been completed.

The remaining three cabins were hard to enter as floating objects such as furniture and junk were delaying divers’ entrance. If divers fail to retrieve all the missing people from the sunken ship till May 15, divers will search passenger cabins again as well as freight compartments on the first and second floors. More bull trawlers will be deployed to prevent bodies from being swept away by currents as the area is famous for the country’s second-fastest tidal currents. Stow nets will be installed to catch bodies floated from the ship.

Mattresses, shoes and clothing, which were believed to have come from the vessel, were found Sunday in waters as far away as 15 km from the scene. A managing director of Chonghaejin Marine, the ship’s operator, was arrested on charges that he overlooked the overloading, which has been believed to be one of the main causes of the ferry sinking.

All 15 sailors on board the ship, including the captain, were arrested for several charges such as accidental homicide, and three officials of the ship’s operators were arrested.

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