Nine people have been found dead after a passenger ship capsized in waters off South Korea’s southwest coast, according to local media reports.
Yonhap News Agency said on Thursday that a total of nine people, including a crew member, five high school students, two teachers and a passenger, were confirmed dead at around 11:00 a.m. local time, with 179 people rescued and 287 still missing.
Lee Gyeong-og, South Korea’s vice minister of security and public administration, said that 160 navy and coast guard divers were working at the scene, but that their operations to get inside the ship’s wreckage were being hampered by strong currents and poor underwater visibility.
The ferry carrying 475 people capsized off South Korea’s southern coast on Wednesday. The 6,825-ton ship, named Sewol, sent out a distress signal at around 9:00 a.m. local time with passenger testimony suggesting it may have run aground.
The cause of the incident is still unknown.
The long delay in rescue operations is causing fury among families waiting for word of passengers who were mostly high school students traveling with several teachers to the resort island of Jeju for a four-day trip.
The high number of people unaccounted for — likely trapped in the ship or floating in the ocean — raised fears that the death toll could rise drastically, making it one of South Korea’s biggest ferry disasters since 1993 when 292 people died as an overloaded ferry, sailing despite warnings of bad weather, sank off the country’s west coast.