The death toll from last month's deadly ferry sinking rose to 288 on Wednesday as divers recovered one more body from the submerged hull during an early morning search, officials said.
A female body was retrieved from the sunken ferry Sewol, lowering the number of those still missing from the maritime accident to 16, according to officials of the government accident settlement team in charge of the search efforts.
The 6,825-ton ferry carrying an estimated 476 people, mostly high school students, capsized and sank off the southwestern island of Jindo on April 16, in one of South Korea's worst maritime disasters.
Divers plan to wait for low tide to resume their search operation for the 16 missing people later in the day, they said, adding that 123 military, Coast Guard and civilian divers are on standby for the mission.
Wednesday's search will be focused on dining and lounge areas of the ship's third, fourth and fifth decks.
The divers, however, may face difficulty accessing compartments on the fifth deck as some decaying partitions have begun to fall apart, according to the officials.
Underwater cranes will be used to help the divers gain access to the inside of the fifth deck, they said.
Slightly misty weather was reported near the waters off Jindo, with waves forecast to reach about 0.6 meter in the day, according to the weather service.
The government rescue team said that divers have also searched the underwater area around the shipwreck for bodies of the missing people, which could have been swept out of the submerged hull.
Divers used an acoustic underwater search device called side scan sonar for their two-week search, staring on May 1, but nothing meaningful has been found there, the officials said.
The divers were expanding the range of their search to the waters 15 kilometers off the accident site as they continued searching outside of the hull.
"If bodies were laid on the ocean floor, they would have been detected in the imagery recorded (by the side scan sonar). It is disappointing that the device wasn't a great help," one of the officials said.
Meanwhile, one maritime police officer was rushed to a hospital earlier in the day after suffering a back injury while participating in the search operation, the Coast Guard said.
He had been working at a patrol ship dispatched to the shipwreck site ever since ever since the accident last month.
A host of divers and other workers have been injured in the month-long search operation, with one civilian diver and one Navy serviceman dying. (Yonhap)