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Vision of Korean ferry rescue, sinking

RAW VISION: South Korean coastguards attempt to pull survivors off a sinking ferry on Wednesday.

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Jindo: South Korean coastguards and navy divers have resumed their search for about 290 people still missing after a ferry capsized in what could be the country's worst maritime disaster in  more than 20 years.

Grieving family members gathered on the quay of the coastal city of Jindo, huddled in blankets against the spring cold as efforts to locate the missing went into a second day.

One parent, Park Yung-suk,  said she had seen the body of her teenage daughter's teacher brought ashore earlier in the morning.

Relatives wait for news at a harbour in Jindo early on Thursday.

Relatives wait for news at a harbour in Jindo early on Thursday. Photo: AFP

"If I could teach myself to dive, I would jump in the water and try to find my daughter," Ms Park said as light rain fell.

Of about 450 passengers on board the ferry when it set sail from the port of Incheon late on Tuesday, 179 have been rescued and six people are known to have died. Nearly 340 of the passengers were teenagers and teachers from the same school near the capital Seoul on a field trip to Jeju island, about 100 kilometres south of the Korean peninsula.

As coastguard officials arrived at Jindo on Thursday, waiting relatives jeered at them, shouting: "The weather's nice, why aren't you starting the rescue."

A woman cries after finding her son's name in a list of survivors posted at a gym in Jindo.

A woman cries after finding her son's name in a list of survivors posted at a gym in Jindo. Photo: Reuters

It is not known why the 6586-tonne vessel, built in Japan 20 years ago, sank.

As frustration grew with the lack of information, some parents of missing schoolchildren hired their own boat on Wednesday night. They appeared to blame the government of President Park Geun-hye and rescue officials for not making a big enough effort.

"Since the government refused to take us to the scene 11 parents chipped in 61,000 won ($58.79) each to hire a boat and took a reporter and a diver. But there was no rescue operation going on," said one father who declined to give his name. "I am extremely angry."

Maritime officers, in black, rescue passengers, in orange life vests, on Wednesday.

Maritime officers, in black, rescue passengers, in orange life vests, on Wednesday. Photo: Reuters

At the dockside in Jindo, women sat and stared out at the black, calm sea before them, quietly sobbing.

Rescue efforts on Thursday could be be hampered by difficult weather conditions, however, amid forecasts of rain, strong winds and fog.

It was not immediately clear why the Sewol ferry had listed heavily on to its side and capsized in apparently calm waters off South Korea's south-west coast, but some survivors spoke of a loud noise before the disaster.

Relatives weep as they wait for missing passengers of a sunken ferry at Jindo.

Relatives weep as they wait for missing passengers of a sunken ferry at Jindo. Photo: Getty Images

A member of the crew of a local government ship involved in the rescue, who said he had spoken to members of the ferry's crew, described the area as free of reefs or rocks and said the cause was likely to be some sort of malfunction on the vessel.

There were reports of the ferry having veered off its course, but coordinates of the site of the accident provided by port authorities indicated it was not far off the regular shipping lane.

The ferry sent a distress signal early on Wednesday, the coastguard said, triggering a rescue operation that involved almost 100 coastguard and navy vessels and fishing boats, as well as 18 helicopters.

Where the ferry capsized.

Where the ferry capsized.

A US navy ship was at the scene to help, the US Seventh Fleet said, adding it was ready to offer more assistance.

According to a coastguard official in Jindo, the waters where the ferry capsized have some of the strongest tides of any off South Korea's coast, meaning divers were prevented from entering the mostly submerged ship for several hours.

Adding to the sense of confusion on Wednesday, the Ministry of Security and Public Administration initially reported that 368 people had been rescued and that about 100 were missing. But it later described those figures as a miscalculation, turning what had at first appeared to be a largely successful rescue operation into potentially a major disaster.

Helicopters are seen above a South Korean passenger ship (C) that has been sinking, in the sea off Jindo, south of the Korean peninsula. Click for more photos

Rescue at sea: South Korean passenger ship in distress

Helicopters are seen above a South Korean passenger ship (C) that has been sinking, in the sea off Jindo, south of the Korean peninsula. Photo: Reuters

Reuters