People look out to the sea as they wait for news of their missing loved onesGetty

Parents of missing school children aboard the Sewol ferry that capsized off the coast of South Korea, have been hiring rescue boats to join the overnight search.

The South Korean coastguard reports that 280 people, most of them children, remain missing.

174 have been rescued and 55 people have been injured. Four people have been reported to have died in the incident, including a male student, a female crew member and another unidentified man.

One of the dead was found inside the sinking ferry, while another died soon after arriving at the Mokpo Hankook hospital.

The ferry had 462 people and 150 vehicles on board and was sailing to the southern island of Jeju when it sent a distress call at 9am local time. Within two hours it had completely capsized, with only the front part of its hull visible above the water.

340 of those aboard the ferry were from the same high school near the capital Seoul, on their way to Jeju island for a field trip.

Many of the relatives of the missing have claimed that the rescue operation was mismanaged and have gone to look for themselves after divers suspended searches inside the submerged vessel until daylight

The father of one missing child and 10 other parents paid 61,000 won (£35) each to hire a boat to take them to the scene, along with a local reporter and a diver.

"There was no rescue operation going on," he said on his return to Jindo. "We clearly saw there is none. What they were doing at the time was stopping the oil spill. I'm extremely angry. The media says the rescue operation is still going on. It's all a lie. It makes me so furious."

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Maritime police search for missing passengers near the sunken SewolReuters

Many of the parents had gathered at Danwon High School in Ansan after news of the ferry disaster broke.

Park Seong-ho, father of a missing 17-year-old boy, said: "I have to go now. It's as if the world is falling apart. I really want to go now to see my son."

Jeong Kyung-mi, mother of another 17-year-old from the school, was one of the fortunate parents to receive a text message from her son saying he had been rescued.

"When I heard the news, it felt like my heart had stopped beating," she said.

The school was the focus of anger after it mistakenly announced that all 338 students and teachers on the field trip had been rescued.

The Ministry of Security and Public Administration also incorrectly reported that 368 people had been rescued and that around 100 were missing.

Survivors of the disaster were taken to a school in Jindo waiting to be reunited with their loved ones. They were huddled on the floor of a gymnasium, wrapped in blankets and receiving medical aid.

Gathering in Jindo, parents of the missing children sat on the dockside staring out at the sea before them, as hopes of finding the teenagers alive tragically begin to fade.

"My tears have dried up," said a mother in Jindo. "I am holding on to hope. I hope the government does everything to bring these kids back to their mothers."

Relatives check the survivor lists at Jindo portGetty

Kim Young-boong, from Chunghaejin Marine Corporation, an official from the company that owns the ship, apologised for the tragedy.

"I would like to say sorry to the passengers including a number of students and their parents, and promise that our company will do its best to minimise loss of life. We are sorry."

It remains unclear as to why the ferry capsized in calm conditions off South Korea's southwest coast, but a loud noise was reported prior to the incident.