Families of missing ferry victims clash with police on Jindo Island, South Korea.
Families of missing ferry victims clash with police on Jindo Island, South Korea.

The families of missing passengers on the sunken South Korean ferry Sewol have clashed with officials in a furious protest about the slow pace of the rescue operation.

Police barred the path of family members as they attempted to leave Jindo Island to march to the presidential palace in the country's capital, Seoul, to demand answers.

Many are anxious to retrieve the bodies of those who died before they start to decompose.

Some families have been camping in a gymnasium on Jindo Island since Wednesday's disaster, anxiously awaiting news of their relatives.

"Bring me the body so that I can see the face and hug my child," shouted one woman.

Lee Woon-geun, father of missing passenger Lee Jung-in, 17, told the BBC: "We want an answer from the person in charge about why orders are not going through and nothing is being done. They are clearly lying and kicking the responsibility to others."

Divers have finally entered the ferry, retrieving 22 bodies, but 248 passengers remain missing.

After yesterday's operation, the death toll stands at 54, with 174 having been rescued on the night of the tragedy.

About 200 ships, 34 aircraft and 600 divers have been taking part in the operation, but currents remain strong, and visibility poor, hampering efforts to retrieve bodies.

The ship's captain and two other crew members have been remanded in custody, and have been charged with negligence of duty and violation of maritime law.

Among them is a 25-year-old first mate who prosecutors claim was steering the vessel when it capsized.

Reports suggest that the ferry, which was on a 300-mile trip from the port of Incheon to the resort island of Jeju, may have turned sharply then listed before capsizing. Some experts believe that it may have struck a rock before sinking.

Investigators are now probing the safety record of the ferry operator and the actions of the crew, as well as investigating how the luggage was stowed.

In messages to family members, those trapped on board as the ship sank talked of being trapped in crowded corridors, unable to get out.

Crew members are reported to have instructed passengers to stay on board, even as the vessel listed sharply.

Many of the 350 passengers on board were pupils and staff from Danwon High School.

Ferry captain Lee Joon-Seok left the vessel before it sank, and did not issue orders to evacuate.

In a TV address Lee, who has more than 40 years' experience at sea, said: "I am sorry to the people of South Korea for causing a disturbance and I bow my head in apology to the families of the victims.

"I gave instructions regarding the route, then I briefly went to the bedroom and then it happened.

"At the time, the current was very strong, temperature of the ocean water was cold, and I thought that if people left the ferry without (proper) judgement, if they were not wearing a life jacket, and even if they were, they would drift away and face many other difficulties.

"The rescue boats had not arrived yet, nor were there any civilian fishing ships or other boats nearby at that time. There was a mistake on my behalf as well but the steering (gear of the ship) turned further than it was supposed to."