Rescue teams fight rising winds and waves as they search for hundreds of people – many of them children – still missing after a South Korean ferry capsized and sank.
Coastguard and navy divers were diving into the waters at the site of the accident, about 12 miles off the country’s southwestern coast.
Earlier, rescue teams hammered on the hull of the upturned vessel, hoping for a response from anyone trapped inside, but did not hear anything, media reports said.
Meanwhile a man identified as the ferry’s captain briefly appeared on TV, his face covered with a gray hoodie.
“I am really sorry and deeply ashamed,” he said, as he was being questioned at the Mokpo Coast Guard Office on Thursday.
The vessel, carrying 475 passengers and crew, capsized on Wednesday during a short journey from the port of Incheon to the holiday island of Jeju.
Nine people were found dead and 179 had been rescued, according to the South Korean government, leaving 287 unaccounted for and possibly still trapped in the vessel.
There is still no official explanation for the sinking, although the government has launched a formal inquiry. The ship, built in Japan 20 years ago, was following a well travelled route. Although the wider area has rock hazards and shallow waters, they were not in the immediate vicinity of its usual path.
State broadcaster YTN quoted investigation officials as saying the ship was off its usual course and had been hit by a veering wind which caused containers stacked on deck to shift.
Grieving parents accused rescue teams of being slow to react and for lack of information, although government officials said that search efforts had continued through the night.
“I am really angry with the government,” said Kwak Hyun-ok, whose daughter who was one of 340 children and teachers from one school on the vessel.
If I could teach myself to dive, I would jump in the water and try to find my daughter
“There is no meaning to life without my daughter,” Ms Kwak added.
The government said three cranes were being moved to the site of the accident and would arrive on Friday, although efforts were continuing to establish whether there were any survivors on the stricken vessel.
“We carried out underwater searches five times from midnight until early in the morning, but the strong currents and murky waters pose big obstacles,” Kang Byung-kyu a minister for public security told a press conference in the capital Seoul.
One parent, Park Yung-suk, told Reuters at the port of Jindo where the rescue efforts are centred that she had seen the body of her teenage daughter’s teacher brought ashore earlier in the morning.
“If I could teach myself to dive, I would jump in the water and try to find my daughter,” she said.
The vessel was listing heavily to one side on Wednesday as passengers wearing life jackets scrambled into the sea and waiting rescue boats, according to television footage.
It sank in roughly two hours and witnesses and local media showed that just two life rafts from the ship successfully inflated and launched. Earlier reports said just one had inflated.
Witnesses told Korean media that the captain of the vessel, who is now being held by police, was one of the first to leave the stricken vessel.