Divers Search Sunken South Korea Ferry For Hundreds of Missing

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SEOUL, South Korea -- Divers were battling strong currents around a sunken ferry in the hunt for survivors, officials in South Korea said Wednesday as the increasingly desperate rescue operation was extended into the hours of darkness.

Almost 300 passengers were still missing at 6 a.m. ET, nine hours after the Sewol capsized and tilted into freezing cold waters off the country’s southwest coast. Many of the missing are high school students on a field trip.

One survivor said students could have been trapped inside the vessel when water rushed in.

Military and Coast Guard divers went underwater to search the vessel, South Korea news agency Yonhap reported, but poor underwater visibility and strong currents at the scene were making it difficult for the divers to get inside.

A Coast Guard spokesman in Mokpo, the port city near where the disaster happened, said at 7 p.m. local time (6 a.m. ET) that rescue would continue overnight. “There is no stopping,” the spokesman said.

Lee Gyeong-og, a vice minister for South Korea's Public Administration and Security Ministry, told reporters at a news conference that it was too early to say what had caused the ferry to capsize.

“I do not want to make a prejudgment,” he said, adding that he wanted to speak to survivors to find out what had happened.

- Julie Yoo and Alastair Jamieson