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Two dead as South Korea ferry with around 450 passengers sinks

Seoul: South Korea said today that two people were killed and more than 100 missing after a ferry capsized at sea with 477 people on board -- mostly high school students bound for a holiday island.

South Korea ferry mishap
South Korea Coast Guards rescuing some of the passengers and crew aboard the ferry sinking on its way to Jeju island from Incheon. Pic/AFP

"So far, 368 have been rescued," Lee Gyeong-Og, the vice minister of security and public administration, told a press briefing in Seoul. Officials voiced concern over the fate of the 107 people unaccounted for, fearing that many may have been trapped as the vessel listed sharply and capsized within two hours of sending a distress signal at 9:00am (0000 GMT).

Dramatic television aerial footage showed terrified passengers wearing life jackets clambering into inflatable boats as water lapped over the rails of the vessel as it sank. Some could be seen sliding down the steeply inclined side of the ferry and into the water, as rescuers, including the crew of what appeared to be a small fishing boat, struggled to pull them to safety.

Of the 448 passengers on board the ferry which had been bound for the popular southern resort island of Jeju, 324 were students travelling with 14 teachers from a high school in Ansan, just south of Seoul. Lee's ministry said two people had been confirmed dead, including one male student and one female crew member. Many appeared to have been rescued by fishing and other commercial vessels who were first on the scene before a flotilla of coastguard and navy ships arrived, backed by helicopters.

Lee said divers, including a team of South Korean navy SEALS, were continuing to search the submerged vessel. "There is so much mud in the sea water and the visibility is very low," he added. The 6,825-tonne ferry, which had sailed out of the western port of Incheon on Tuesday evening, ran into trouble some 20 kilometres off the southern island of Byungpoong.

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