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April 22, 2014

South Korea Ferry Death Toll Passes 100

by VOA News

The death toll from last week's South Korea ferry accident exceeded 100 on Tuesday, as divers continue pulling bodies from the sunken vessel.

More than 200 people remain missing and are presumed dead after becoming trapped on the five-story passenger ship, which capsized last Wednesday.

Divers retrieved 17 bodies from the 6,800-ton Sewol ferry early Tuesday. The pace of the recovery effort is expected to speed up as conditions improve.

Coast Guard official Ko Myung-suk said the strong ocean current, which has hampered the effort, is expected to be calmer on Tuesday.

"The wave height of the search operation site is around .5 meters for today. The flow speed is slow so it would be fine to search," said Ko.

With an expected final death toll of around 300, the accident is set to become South Korea's worst ferry disaster in more than two decades.

The ship's captain, third mate, and one other crew member were arrested Saturday on charges of deserting their passengers as the ferry was sinking.

The captain, who was one of the first to leave the ship, said he did not order an immediate evacuation because of the ocean's strong currents and cold water.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye said the actions of the crew were "incomprehensible and unacceptable" and "like murder."

South Korean prosecutors say the ferry was being steered by a 26-year-old third mate who was navigating the area for the first time.

Tracking data shows the ship took a sharp turn while navigating a group of small islands off South Korea's southwestern coast.
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Authorities have not established the cause of the disaster, but some survivors report hearing a loud impact noise before the vessel tilted and began sinking.

A memorial service for many of the victims is planned Wednesday in Ansan, South Korea, home to many of the high school students on the ship.

Most of the victims were high schools students on their way to a school outing on the resort island of Jeju.
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