The confirmed death toll from the Sewol ferry disaster has reached 244, South Korean officials have announced.
Meanwhile President Park Geun-hye met relatives of those on board.
Park Geun-hye told family members that those responsible for the ferry sinking on April 16 would be “punished severely”.
The confirmed death toll from the Sewol ferry disaster has reached 244 (photo AP)
The Sewol ferry had 476 passengers on board when it sank – 174 were rescued, and 58 remain unaccounted for.
Prosecutors say the ferry owner ignored safety warnings and allowed the ship to be overloaded.
Park Geun-hye visited Jindo island, close to where the ship sank, on Sunday. It was her second meeting with the family members.
Speaking to relatives, the president said: “I feel a sense of unlimited responsibility… it is heart-rending to imagine how you must be feeling.”
“A thorough investigation will be conducted to find those who were responsible and criminally at fault… and they will be punished severely,” she added.
Authorities are investigating whether the ship sank from overloading and changes in the structure of the ship.
Anger has also been directed at the ship’s captain and crew members, who delayed giving evacuation orders.
Last week, South Korean PM Chung Hong-won resigned amid criticism of the government’s handling of the disaster.
Divers have been navigating the sunken ship in an attempt to retrieve the remaining bodies. However, the search has been hampered by strong currents, debris, and poor visibility.
Several divers were suffering from decompression sickness, Yonhap news agency reported on Friday.
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Relatives of South Korean passengers still missing from the Sewol ferry disaster have angrily confronted the fisheries minister and the coastguard chief.
The officials have been surrounded by angry family members in a tent on Jindo island where the rescue operation is being co-ordinated.
They spent all of Thursday night trying to explain the search effort.
At least 183 passengers have been confirmed dead, with 121 still missing in Sewol ferry disaster.
There were 476 people on board, with many trapped inside as the ferry listed and sank within two hours of distress signals being sent. A total of 174 passengers were rescued.
Many of those who died or are presumed dead were students and teachers from Danwon high school, south of Seoul.
Families of passengers still missing from the Sewol ferry disaster have confronted the fisheries minister and the coastguard chief (photo AFP)
On a visit to Seoul on Friday, President Barack Obama expressed his condolences for South Korea’s “incredible loss” and offered America’s solidarity.
“I can only imagine what the parents are going through at the moment – the incredible heartache,” Barack Obama said.
Prosecutors are said to be investigating whether modifications made to the ferry made it more unstable.
Factors under consideration include a turn made around the time the ship began to list, as well as wind, ocean currents and the freight it was carrying.
Reports have emerged indicating that the ship’s sleeping cabins were refitted some time between 2012 and 2013, which experts say may have inadvertently affected the balance of the boat.
Investigators on Friday said that life rafts and escape chutes on a sister ship to a sunken ferry were not working properly.
With bad weather and stronger currents expected at the weekend the government says that it is “mobilizing all available resources” towards the rescue effort.
It says that about 88 expert divers are searching for survivors on cabins on the third and fourth decks,
The authorities say that hundreds of civilian divers who are also at the scene are slowing down the rescue operation and will no longer be allowed participate.
Local media reports say that divers who have succeeded in reaching the wreck are exhausted, with some needing treatment for decompression sickness after swimming in cold, dark waters for long hours.
As the chances of finding survivors recedes, relatives have become increasingly angry with what they see as the slow pace of the rescue operation.
In addition to their overnight confrontation of the fisheries minister and the coastguard chief, another top official was attacked on Thursday by relatives who accused him of lying about the rescue effort.
Deputy coastguard head Choi Sang-Hwan was surrounded by about 20 relatives who stormed his temporary office at Jindo port, correspondents say.
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