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South Korea Ferry Disaster

Anguished South Korea Ferry Families Rent Their Own Boats

Anguished parents of teenagers missing on a capsized ferry in South Korea expressed frustration at the rescue effort Thursday as strong currents thwarted attempts by divers to enter the submerged vessel.

"If I could teach myself to dive, I would jump in the water and try to find my daughter," said mother Park Yung-suk at the nearby port of Jindo.

Almost 300 passengers remained unaccounted for more than 24 hours after the Sewol sank in calm seas. Many of the missing are were high school seniors who were on a field trip. Nine people have so far been confirmed dead in the disaster.

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As anger grew, some parents of the missing teens even rented their own boat in order to get to the scene, Reuters reported.

They appeared to blame the government of President Park Geun-hye and rescue officials for not putting in enough effort.

"Since the government refused to take us to the scene, 11 parents chipped in 61,000 won ($58.79) each to hire a boat and took a reporter and a diver. But there was no rescue operation going on," said one father who declined to give his name.

Image: Family members of missing ferry passengers
Family members of missing passengers who were aboard the doomed South Korean ferry look at the site on Thursday. ISSEI KATO / Reuters

Navy and coast guard divers tried to enter the ship more than 10 times but were hampered by poor underwater visibility and strong currents, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.

Diving operations were suspended altogether at around 1 p.m. local time Thursday (midnight ET) due to bad weather, officials said.

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The mother of one of the dead, 24-year-old teacher Choi Hye-jung, sat on a bench outside a hospital in the coastal city of Mokpo, waiting to see her body. The victim’s father, Choi Jae-kyu, 53, told The Associated Press his daughter had been “very active and wanted to be a good leader."

Angry shouts were heard when Prime Minister Chung Hong-won visited a shelter where relatives waited for news, AP reported. Some yelled that the government should have sent more divers to search the wreckage.

"I am really angry with the government," said Kwak Hyun-ok, whose child who was among the missing, according to Reuters. “There is no meaning to life without my daughter."

- Alastair Jamieson