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Hopes fade after South Korean ferry capsize as poor weather hinders search

Hopes are fading for 290 missing occupants of an overturned South Korean ferry. Poor visibility and strong currents are hampering rescuers who have hammered on the upturned hull, hoping for signs of life.

South Korea's death toll from its major ferry capsize rose to nine Thursday as search teams faced poor weather condition. The rapid capsize remains unexplained.

Aboard the ferry Sewol had been 475 people. Only 179 were rescued from cold waters near the holiday island Jeju, southwest of the mainland, on Wednesday.

Many passengers were high school students from Ansan, a city near Seoul.

Survivors said they heard a crashing sound and that a severe tilt kept many from reaching exits. The captain survived and is being questioned as a possible suspect in the ship's sinking, according to South Korean broadcaster KBS. He was initially interviewed by the coast guard only as a key witness.

Yelling relatives told Prime Minister Chung Hong-won that the government should have sent more divers when she visited a shelter at the port of Jindo, near the disaster scene.

The government said three cranes would arrive on Friday at the disaster site which is about 37 meters (121 feet) deep.

Help from the US Navy's 7th fleet, which is stationed in the area, has also been offered. Its amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard had moved to the area.

The news agency Yonhap said ships and planes were scouring for survivors amid strong currents with hundreds of divers deployed.

The Sewol was built in Japan in 1994 and could carry more than 900 people, 180 vehicles and 152 shipping containers, according to the news agency Yonhap.

ipj/hc (AP, Reuters, dpa)

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