US President Barack Obama to express condolences during visit to South Korea this week as part of Asian tour
SEOUL - The weather held up at the site of a sunken ferry off South Korea's southwestern coast on Tuesday, allowing divers to retrieve more bodies while lifting the death toll to 108.
Rescue divers took advantage of improved conditions around the submerged vessel, under pressure from the families of missing passengers to finish the search operation.
Nearly a week has passed since the Sewol ferry sank while carrying 476 people – mostly high school students – bound for the resort island of Jeju from Incheon.
The United States has continued to support local efforts ahead of President Barack Obama’s visit to South Korea later this week.
The Pentagon announced Monday it was sending a salvage ship from Thailand to help with the operation, while an American assault ship has already supported efforts to locate the 194 missing passengers.
Obama is due to arrive in Seoul on Friday after a three-day trip to Japan.
According to the White House, the U.S. president will spend a significant portion of his overnight stay expressing condolences over South Korea’s worst ferry disaster in 20 years.
Ben Rhodes, the U.S. deputy national security adviser for strategic communication, told reporters that he expected Obama's visit to the site to be a major part of his trip.
"I'm sure the president will want to find a way to express to those families and to the people of the Republic of Korea how much we support them in this difficult time."
On Tuesday, South Korea’s period of mourning continued with families and friends holding a series of funerals for those who had lost their lives on the ferry, including a 22-year-old crewmember turned heroine.
Park Ji-young grabbed local headlines for sacrificing her own life to save students on the sinking ship, even as her captain and other crew members escaped.
Captain Lee Jun-seok was arrested Friday on suspicion of negligence of duty and violation of maritime law.
Several others among his staff were also being investigated in the wake of the sinking amid public fury over the ship’s delayed evacuation.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye on Monday likened their actions to “murder,” although the probe into the cause of last Wednesday’s tragedy continues.
Not since 1993 has South Korea dealt with such a maritime disaster on this scale – back then 292 of 362 passengers died when their ferry went down in the Yellow Sea, also off the country’s southwestern coast.
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