Civilian Diver Dies Searching for Bodies From South Korea Ferry

South Korean Sewol ferry
Issei Kato—Reuters Vessels involved in salvage operations are seen near the upturned Sewol ferry in the sea off the South Korean town of Jindo on April 17, 2014

The latest fatality connected to the Sewol ferry, which sank last month off the coast of South Korea and left more than 300 people dead or missing, is a civilian diver on his first trip down to the submerged hull to retrieve the bodies of victims

A civilian diver helping to search for dozens of people still missing from the doomed South Korean ferry died Tuesday after getting into trouble while scouring the sunken hulk.

The 53-year-old was pulled to the surface by fellow divers after becoming uncommunicative about five minutes into his first search of the stricken Sewol, the Associated Press reports.

The ill-fated vessel departed the port city of Incheon with 476 people on board but capsized off South Korea’s southwest coast on April 16. More than 300 people are confirmed dead or are still missing, mostly teenagers on a high school outing to the resort island of Jeju.

Twenty-two of the 29 crew members survived, of whom all 15 responsible for the ship’s navigation — including the captain — have been arrested and face various charges including possible negligent homicide. Four others connected with Chonghaejin Marine, the company that ran the ferry, have also been detained.

Despite the diver’s death, others continued their searches Tuesday, buoyed by improving weather and lessening ocean currents. Investigators believe the remaining bodies yet to be recovered will be found in 64 of the ship’s 111 areas.

Investigators continue to probe into allegations of unsafe modifications and overloading of cargo as possibly being behind the tragedy. The ferry was carrying an estimated 3,608 tons of cargo, more than three times what was deemed safe by marine authorities, according to official documents. It also apparently had shed much of the ballast water necessary to maintain stability to accommodate the extra freight.

The sinking has shocked the nation, and 1.1 million South Koreans had paid respects at 131 memorial altars by Sunday.

President Park Geun-hye again criticized the role played by the ferry operator and government officials during an address Tuesday to mark the Buddha’s birthday at a temple in Seoul.

“Safety rules that must be observed were not followed because of worldly desires, and irresponsible acts that tolerated those injustices have resulted in death,” she said.

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