A barge arrived at the site of a ferry sinking off the southwest coast on Thursday to prepare to cut open part of the submerged hull to find the 16 people still missing, officials said.
Despite desperate search operations for those missing in last month's sinking of the ferry Sewol, no progress has been made over the past eight days, leaving the death toll unchanged at 288.
In an effort to gain access to unsearched compartments of the ill-fated ship where some of the missing are believed to be trapped, divers plan to cut out windows on its fourth floor.
Carrying some 20 divers and cutting machines, the 780-ton barge will be used for breaking open the hull and removing debris there, according to officials, noting floating wreckage and decaying partitions have prevented rescue workers from entering inside.
"After fixing the barge at the scene today, we expect divers to carry out underwater search tomorrow to make a detailed timetable for the cutting job," a response team official said.
It would take up to a week to break open the hull depending on weather conditions, he added.
Along with the operations, divers launched an underwater search early Thursday for about an hour, but failed to make headway.
"I think divers can launch search operations some three rounds today when the underwater currents are forecast to get weaker," the official said.
The 6,825-ton ferry Sewol sank in waters off Jindo last month.
Of the 476 people presumed to had been on board, 172 were saved and 288 have been confirmed dead, mostly high school students on a field trip. (Yonhap)