Unfavorable weather conditions are likely to further disrupt the search for the 16 people still missing from a deadly ferry sinking off the country's southwest coast, government officials said on Sunday.
About 100 divers are standing by, but fast tidal currents in the area, along with foggy and windy conditions, may prevent them from doing so, the officials said.
The joint search team of civilian and military divers last retrieved a body on Wednesday, and the death toll stands at 288. A total of 476 people were aboard the 6,825-ton vessel at the time of the April 16 disaster.
The officials said the divers have tried to recover bodies from the dining and lounge areas of the third, fourth and fifth decks of the sunken ship, but decaying partitions of the ship have begun to fall apart, putting the divers at risk.
The Korea Meteorological Administration forecast inclement conditions in Jindo. It said up to 50 millimeters of rain will be accompanied by thunder and lightning until Monday morning, with waves reaching 2 meters and wind blowing at up to 13 meters per second.
The government officials said they will deploy remotely operated vehicles for underwater searches, a month after withdrawing them because of strong tidal currents.
They said they will send the ROVs back into the sea as long as their presence won't interfere with the divers' search efforts.
On April 21, two ROVs, controlled by seven pilots, searched inside the sunken ship two different times for a total of under an hour, but their efforts bore no fruit before they were withdrawn from the scene.
Strong tides at the time made it difficult to stabilize the cable connecting the ROVs and the ship to which they were tethered.
The officials said obstacles remain for the unmanned operations but that they hope the ROVs can contribute to the stalled search for the missing.
While the divers were biding their time near the scene of the accident, prosecutors said they have detained a person who allegedly helped the de facto owner of the Sewol, was on the most-wanted list and had been fleeing from authorities.
Prosecutors in Incheon said their analysis of video evidence led them to suspect that the person, whose identity was withheld, helped Yoo Byung-eun elude authorities.
Yoo, 73, is believed to be the owner of Chonghaejin Marine Co., the ferry operator, and investigators say his corruption created circumstances that led to the maritime disaster.
Yoo is said to be an influential founding member of a religious group, to which the abettor belongs, prosecutors said.
Under the criminal code, a person who harbors or conceals a suspect may be sentenced to a maximum three years in jail or fined up to 5 million won ($4,880).
Yoo and his eldest son, Yoo Dae-kyun, have been placed on the most-wanted list with a 50 million won reward for information leading to the elder Yoo's arrest and a 30 million won reward for his son.
Prosecutors said they have been receiving tips since the Yoos were placed on the wanted list. A report claimed authorities chased but lost a vehicle said to be carrying the two in the southern city of Yeosu, 455 kilometers from Seoul, but prosecutors said they weren't able to confirm if the two men were actually in the car. (Yonhap)