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McClatchy Tribune News Service

SEOUL, South Korea — The confirmed death toll reached nine in the South Korean ferry sinking Thursday, as fears grew for hundreds still missing.

The latest three bodies were found when military divers and other rescuers resumed their search shortly after noon, the coast guard was quoted as saying by Yonhap News Agency.

Top priority was checking inside the ship for 287 people still missing, officials were quoted as saying by Yonhap, amid strong currents and murky waters as cold as 12 degrees.

So far 179 people have been rescued, 50 with injuries, Yonhap reported.

A total of 325 of the passengers were students from a suburban Seoul high school on a trip to the resort island of Jeju, about 50 miles south of the mainland.

The crew sent a distress signal at 8:58 a.m. Tuesday. The coast guard said the ship listed to one side and began taking on water. It sank in two hours.

More than 100 ships and planes from the military and coast guard scoured the area, Yonhap reported Wednesday. Fishing boats joined the operations, and more than 550 divers were deployed.

The United States said Wednesday its 7th Fleet stood “ready to assist with the search and rescue efforts,” and the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard has moved to the area.

Yao Qilin/Xinhua/Zuma Press/MCT

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