Civilian diver dies hunting for bodies in capsized ferry

A civilian diver involved in the search for missing people from the South Korean ferry disaster has died.

The Sewol carried 476 people, most of them students from a single high school near Seoul, when it sank off South Korea’s southern coast on April 16. Only 174 survived, including 22 of the 29 crew members. The sinking left more than 260 people dead, with about 40 others still missing.

Yesterday one civilian diver died at a hospital after becoming unconscious. It is the first fatality among divers mobilised following the ferry’s sinking, according to the coast guard.

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The 53-year-old diver was pulled to the surface by fellow divers after losing communication about five minutes after he began underwater searches, Mr Ko said. It was his first search attempt, he added.

Despite his death, divers are continuing the search for bodies with authorities believing most of the remaining missing people are in 64 compartments. Divers have searched all those 64 areas at least once and plan to revisit them again to look for more victims.

Darkness, floating debris and the maze of corridors and cabins onboard have made the search difficult, and divers entered the last three unopened areas last night.

Investigators have also arrested three people suspected of negligence in their handling of cargo on the vessel, according to prosecutors.

In all, 19 people have been arrested in the investigation, 15 of them crew members accused of abandoning passengers. An executive with ties to Chonghaejin, the company that owns the ferry, was detained on suspicion of malpractice related to company finances.

Improper stowage and overloading of cargo is suspected as a possible reason the ferry sank. The ship was carrying an estimated 3,608 tons of cargo, more than three times what it could safely carry.

The owners had also added hundreds of extra cabins above the waterline, possibly making the craft top-heavy and unstable.