Death toll from SKorea ferry disaster rises to 212

Divers battle spring tides two weeks after ferry sinking as 90 passengers still unaccounted for

Divers battle spring tides two weeks after ferry sinking as 90 passengers still unaccounted for

Seoul - Divers fought against strong currents Wednesday as they faced high tides in their attempts to retrieve more victims of South Korea’s Sewol ferry disaster.

The death toll climbed to 212 by Wednesday, meaning 90 were still unaccounted for of the total 476 people – mostly high school students - who had boarded the Sewol on April 16 for its last journey out of Incheon port.

With most of the 6,825-ton ship’s hull lying on a muddy seabed off the country’s southwestern coast, search teams have spent two weeks painstakingly searching below the surface of the Yellow Sea.

Local coast guards said Wednesday that it had readied a diving bell – an airtight steel chamber – to be used in the operation, in the hope that it would carry divers deeper and allow them to stay underwater longer.

Coast guards also expressed concerns that not all victims’ bodies may be recovered from the sunken vessel.

Conditions were forecast to be particularly tough until Friday due to the influence of spring tides strengthening currents by around 40 percent compared with the recent relative calm.

The response team’s spokesperson Ko Myung-seok also updated reporters: "Rescue workers will focus on their search into the front and central parts of the fourth deck and the fifth deck's lobby. Divers will first search cabins that are open, and continue to search closed sections and common areas by early May."

Meanwhile, South Korean President Park Geun-hye came under criticism Wednesday for her apology the day before at a Cabinet meeting, where she had admitted to the government’s failure in accident prevention and management.

Co-leader of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy, Kim Han-gil, told a party meeting: "We had hoped that it would be a comfort to the people, but the president's apology ended up angering the people and the victims' families further.”

Some families had insisted that Park make a full public apology, and that her comments behind closed doors were “informal.”

“Are Cabinet members the only people to President Park, when there are 50 million people [in the country]?" they had asked reporters Tuesday.

Presidential spokesperson Min Kyung-wook described the families’ rejection of Park’s apology as "unfortunate and regrettable."

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