A dozen more bodies were retrieved from the sunken ferry Sewol on Sunday, bringing the confirmed death toll to 248 and the number of those missing to 54, 19 days after the ship sank off South Korea's southwest coast.
The bodies were found on the third and fourth decks as divers focused on searching 64 compartments considered more likely to hold missing passengers among the total of 111 compartments. As of Sunday, 61 compartments have been searched, officials said.
After searching the remaining compartments, the rescue team plans to scour public spaces, such as lobbies, cafeterias and bathrooms. The team will then expand the search to cargo compartments on the first and second decks, officials said.
The 6,825-ton ferry Sewol capsized and sank off South Korea's southwestern island of Jindo on April 16, en route to the southern resort island of Jeju.
A total of 174 people, including most of the ship's crew members, were rescued within hours after the ship began to list, but no one has been found alive since the ship sank.
The majority of the victims were teenage students from Danwon High School in the city of Ansan, just south of Seoul. More than 300 students from the school's second-year class were aboard the ship on a field trip to Jeju Island.
Swift currents and high waves in the western sea have hampered the rescue operations as rescue divers tried to access inner compartments of the ship where many victims are believed to be trapped.
Concerns have also arisen that some bodies of the missing may have been swept out of the submerged ferry after some belongings of the victims were found in waters far off the shipwreck site.
Investigators looking into the Sewol's sinking arrested an official of the ferry's operator Chonghaejin Marine Co. for allegedly overlooking the overloading of the ferry. Officials said the ferry was carrying three times its maximum cargo allowed at the time of the sinking.
Sunday's arrest brought to 19 the number of people apprehended in connection with the sinking. They include the captain and 14 other crew members.
Meanwhile, a continuing stream of citizens paid their respects to the victims of the accident at memorial altars set up across the nation.
As of Sunday morning, a total of 322,600 citizens have visited the memorial altars that enshrine the portraits and nameplates of the teenage students and other victims from the ferry accident.
A dozen parents of the student victims held a silent vigil in front of the memorial altar set up in the city of Ansan, calling for thorough investigations into the ferry sinking.
"I demand an investigation to uncover truth so my child can smile," read one of the pickets held up by parent protesters donning while masks over their mouths. It was the second day of silent vigil by the group of parents of the student victims.
"We began the protest to call for a thorough investigation of the ferry sinking and to criticize the government's bungled rescue efforts," the group said.
The government said it is planning to continue their current search operations, adding that the ship will be lifted out of sea only when all the victims' families agree to it.(Yonhap)