Divers retrieved scores of bodies from a capsized South Korean ferry Wednesday as hope had all but vanished that isolated pockets of air might be able to support some of the 131 passengers still missing.
The death toll from the sinking of the 6,825-ton ferry Sewol surpassed 159 as Coast Guard, Navy and civilian divers recovered bodies from cabins on the third and fourth decks, where most of the missing are believed to have been trapped.
As of 9:00 a.m. Thursday, 171 people had been confirmed dead while 131 others remained missing, said officials of the government task force handling the disaster.
"The sunken ship will be salvaged only after the last missing person is found," an official told a press briefing, as the arrival of seaborne cranes at the accident site added to families' fears that the focus of the operation would soon shift from search and rescue to salvage.
Rescue crews had earlier positioned three large cranes near the scene, but the government said it will lift the capsized ship from the sea only with the consent of the families of the missing.
The divers successfully entered a third-deck cafeteria, where most of the students are believed to have been located at the time of the accident, late Tuesday night but did not find anyone, the officials said.
The team said search workers will continue to work around the clock as weather conditions have improved, mobilizing a total of 212 boats, 34 aircraft and some 550 personnel.
Weather in the area continues to be mild, with waves reaching around 0.5 meter in height, similar to a day earlier, but the water in the area still remains murky, the officials said. (Yonhap)