S Korea ferry disaster: Death toll surpasses 120 as Sewol search speeds up

The death toll from the ferry accident off the country's southern coast soared to over 120 Tuesday as rescue workers capitalised on the slowing currents.

The search mission resumed early Tuesday, and divers continued to bring in bodies from the wreckage pushing the death toll to over 120 and the number of those unaccounted for to over 180 as of 9:30 p.m.

Of the 476 who were on board when the Sewol sank 20 kilometers off the coast of Jindo Island on Wednesday, 325 were students of Danwon High School in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province. Of them, 75 have been rescued.

The authorities have been speeding up search operations in time with the neap tide, when the difference between high and low tides is the least. The neap tide is expected to last until Thursday.

While the neap tide lasts, the authorities plan to deploy divers around the clock.

The search efforts are being concentrated on the third and fourth decks, where the majority of the missing people are considered to have been at the time of the accident.

The rescue workers suspect that a large number of passengers would have gathered in the dining hall on the third deck as the accident occurred during breakfast time.

Along with the search inside the vessel, a large number of ships and aircraft are continuing to look for those who may have floated to the surface.

As divers continue their search for the missing, authorities were delving deeper into what happened aboard the ship in the run up to the fatal incident.

The Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries now suspects that the vessel suffered a power outage for about 36 seconds at about 8:48 a.m. as the ship's automatic identification system has no data regarding that period.

Less than a minute after the AIS resumed compiling data, the ship took a 45-degree turn. The ministry suspects that the event that caused the Sewol to lose balance took place as it took the sharp turn.

More accounts claiming that the Sewol was experiencing malfunctions for some time have also emerged.

A number of former Sewol crew members have told local media that the Sewol had balancing problems, and the crew reported a problem with the ship's steering system two weeks before the accident.

The investigation into the cause has also turned up more controversial accounts from the embattled crew. All 15 of the ship's crew directly involved in operating the vessel, including captain Lee Joon-seok, have been rescued.

According to investigators, crew members have said the captain's evacuation order was not relayed and that the passengers were not told to abandon ship before the crew escaped.

In addition, an engineer told the investigators that the rescued crew used passages accessible only to the staff.

As the controversy expands, some families of the missing passengers have also decided to have autopsies conducted in an attempt to determine the exact cause of death and take legal action if necessary.

"As (some) of the deceased do not appear to have simply drowned, a need to determine the exact cause of death has risen," representatives of the families said.

"Autopsies will be conducted to determine whether rescue was possible. The autopsies will be conducted at the hospitals the bodies are sent to, and the families will be able to name doctors or pathologists to sit in."