2 Chinese nationals among missing
20 confirmed dead; search ongoing for more than 270 passengers
Two Chinese nationals were confirmed to be among the hundreds of passengers unaccounted for on Thursday as rescue efforts continued to hunt for survivors after a ferry sank off the southwest coast of South Korea on Wednesday.
At least 20 dead were confirmed dead, and more than 270 are still missing.
The ferry was carrying 475 people, including 325 students and 15 teachers from Danwon High School in Ansan, a Seoul suburb, which, according to the Chinese embassy in Seoul, has a large Chinese population.
China Central Television said the missing Chinese citizens, a 39-year-old man and a 38-year-old woman, are a married couple.
Chinese authorities were seeking immediate clarification from South Korea concerning passengers still unaccounted for.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry asked South Korea on Thursday to check the information of missing Chinese citizens and find them as soon as possible.
A Chinese woman, who claimed to be a relative of the two missing Chinese, said in South Korea that she was certain her sister and brother-inlaw were on board.
The missing Chinese, from the Korean ethnic group in Jilin province, were working in South Korea, Chinese media quoted the relative as saying.
She also showed pictures on her cellphone that she said were taken by the couple from the ferry. She said she received the pictures about 90 minutes before the accident.
According to the female relative, the two chose the ferry because they wanted to have a driving holiday in the southern resort island of Jeju, the ferry’s destination.
President Xi Jinping said in a condolence message to South Korean President Park Geunhye on Thursday that he was deeply saddened by the accident that caused many deaths, most of them students.
Xi said he paid close attention to the accident and said China would provide support where needed.
Premier Li Keqiang called South Korean Premier Chung Hong-won about the accident.
Separately, Xinhua News Agency reported that a female teenager of Chinese origin was also among the missing passengers. Parents of the high school student confirmed the news, but declined to reveal whether she had South Korean citizenship.
Rescuers worked frantically on Thursday to find around 300 people — mostly schoolchildren — missing after the South Korean ferry capsized, with prospects of pulling survivors from the submerged vessel dimming as emotions boiled over among anguished relatives.
Worsening weather fuelled the somber mood, with persistent rain and choppy seas further hindering dive teams already struggling with low visibility and strong currents.
“Honestly, I think the chances of finding anyone alive are close to zero,” a Coast Guard official told an AFP journalist on one of the boats at the site.
The South Korean Coast Guard said more than 500 divers, 169 vessels and 29 aircraft were now involved in the rescue operation.
But distraught relatives who were gathered in a gymnasium on nearby Jindo island insisted more should be done.
When South Korean Prime Minister Chung Hong-won visited the gymnasium in Jindo earlier in the day, he was jostled and shouted at, and water bottles were thrown. Xinhua and AFP contributed to this story.
Members of the South Korean navy’s Ship Salvage Unit search for passengers aboard the ferry Sewol, which sank on Wednesday.