Seoul: One person has been found dead in a South Korean ferry that is sinking off the southwest coast, a coast guard official said on Wednesday.
As the rescue continues, South Korea's president Park Geun-hye has ordered all available vessels and special operations divers to assist with the operation.
The car ferry 'Sewol' was carrying 447 people, many of them students on the way to Jeju island, when the ship appeared to run into something and began to list heavily.
There was a loud impact and noise before the ferry started sinking, a passenger who had been rescued from the vessel told YTN news television. Another passenger on board had earlier told YTN a rescue helicopter had reached the vessel. The unidentified passenger, who sounded calm, said those on board were in their cabins but were having trouble keeping their balance.
The reason for the ship's difficulties was not immediately clear. Heavy fog had set in overnight in the area, leading to cancellations of many passenger ferry services to islands. YTN TV reported the ship may have hit rocks due to fog, citing a South Korean government official.
The ship was carrying more than 300 high school students and about 150 cars, Yonhap news agency said. A school official later told Reuters all 338 high school students and teachers on board had been rescued.
The car ferry was built in 1994 and has a capacity of 921 passengers, according to Yonhap. It usually travels between Incheon and the South Korean island of Jeju.
An official at Chonghaejin Marine Company confirmed it owns the sinking vessel.