Search for ferry passengers on hold

SEOUL, South Korea — Bad weather and the deterioration of internal partitions in a sunken ferry are hampering the search for those still missing in the disaster, South Korean officials said Saturday.

More than three weeks after the ferry sank, 29 passengers remain missing, with 275 bodies recovered so far, most of them high school students.

Internal partitions in the ferry have become waterlogged and started to bend, said government task force spokesman Ko Myung-seok. Coast guard officials said this can prevent divers from entering different parts of the ferry.

Ko also said divers were unable to carry out underwater searches Saturday because of bad weather.

Search teams took advantage of improved weather this past week, but later were hampered by strong currents and floating debris inside the ship. A civilian diver fell unconscious while searching and died on Tuesday.

Only 172 people survived the April 16 disaster. Most of the passengers were students from a high school south of Seoul.

All 15 surviving crew members involved in the ferry’s navigation have been arrested on suspicion of negligence and failing to protect passengers. Besides possible freight problems, prosecutors say they are looking into other factors, such as the turn made during the time the ship began listing, ocean currents and modifications made to the ship.

On Friday, Kim Han-sik, head of Chonghaejin Marine Co. Ltd., which owns the sunken ferry, was arrested after investigators raised suspicions that improper stowage and overloading of cargo might have contributed to the accident. Kim is facing allegations that he was aware that the ferry exceeded its cargo limit but didn’t do anything to stop it from leaving port, according to prosecutors.

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