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Radio transcript shows panic aboard South Korean ferry

A transcript of radio messages from the sunken South Korean ferry Sewol has been released, apparently suggesting confusion over the ship's evacuation procedure. It is feared the final death toll could exceed 300.

The transcript released on Sunday, which documented conversation between a crew member and a maritime traffic controller, appeared to show confusion about the emergency procedure aboard the vessel.

The crew member asked repeatedly whether the passengers would be rescued quickly if they abandoned the ship, saying it was "impossible to broadcast" instructions.

He added that crew and passengers were unable to move around the ship freely because the ship had listed so badly.

"The ship rolled over a lot right now. Cannot move. Please come quickly," said the crew member who - upon being asked about the wellbeing of passengers - said it was "impossible to confirm."

"It is impossible to move as the body of the ship is tilted," said the crew member.

Minutes later, a similar exchange occurred, with the traffic center explaining that rescue efforts were underway, but repeatedly calling for the passengers to be at least made to wear life vests.

"The captain should make his own decision and evacuate them," said the traffic center official. "We don't know the situation very well. The captain should make the final decision and decide whether you're going to evacuate passengers or not."

Majority dead or missing

The Sewol - which was traveling from the port of Incheon to the holiday island Jeju - ran into trouble and sank on Wednesday with 476 people on board. Of those, 323 were teenage students from the same high school in the city of Ansan. More than 170 people escaped, with 64 people confirmed dead and about 240 people still missing.

South Korean prosecutors investigating the disaster said on Sunday they wanted to extend the detention of the captain, who was arrested on Saturday and who was said not to have been at the helm when the ship hit problems. Two other crew members were also being detained.

Meanwhile, rescue and recovery efforts continued after divers gained access to inside of the wreck. More than a dozen bodies were found, extinguishing hope for some families who had clung to the hope relatives may have been alive inside.

Some 400 kilometers to the north in the capital, Seoul, relatives on Sunday staged a protest march to the residence of South Korean President Park Geun-hye, calling for more action to be taken. In the evening, dozens of relatives gathered at a port on the island of Jindo - near to where the vessel sunk - yelling threats and jostling with Fisheries Minister Lee Ju-young.

Park said on Monday that the behavior of the captain and crew had been "tantamount to murder."

"Not only my heart, but the hearts of all South Koreans have been broken and filled with shock and anger," said Park.

rc/mr (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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