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South Korea Ferry Rescuers: We're Determined to Find Survivors

Divers are "groping with their hands" in poor visibility, official in charge of the hunt for survivors says.

Rescuers expressed hope Thursday that some of the missing passengers inside the sunken South Korea ferry may still be alive.

Only 179 of the 475 passengers and crew aboard the doomed Sewol had been rescued, a coast guard official told reporters at a news conference.

That leaves 287 people –- including many high school seniors who were on a field trip –- still unaccounted for inside the submerged ship.

“Even if only one percent have survived, we’ll do our best to rescue that one percent,” said Kim Soo-hyun, chief of the western regional coast guard, according to a BBC translation.

South Korean Coast Guard rescue teams retrieve the body of a dead passenger from a sunken ferry on Thursday.Chung Sung-Jun / Getty Images

One more body was pulled from the scene earlier on Thursday, bringing the confirmed death toll to nine.

Kim added that strong currents and poor visibility meant divers had not been able to get inside cabins on the ship to see if any passengers were trapped in air pockets.

Visibility less than six feet in the water. Divers were "groping with their hands,” he said.

Kim added that officials were investigating reports of cellphone messages left by survivors possibly trapped inside the ferry but said the timing of calls could not immediately be verified.

He also confirmed that the ship’s captain was being questioned as part of the investigation into the disaster, but said reports the ship had deviated from its course were untrue.

- Alastair Jamieson