South Korean rescue teams take part in recovery operations at the site of the sunken Sewol ferry, marked with buoys AFP

The heartbreaking details of the final moments suffered by the children on the South Kerry ferry have been revealed.

325 of the passengers were students from Danwon High School near Seoul, who were on a field trip to the holiday island of Jeju.

250 of the students have been reported dead or missing, while the official death toll has now reached 150.

South Korean divers have described the painful process of recovering the bodies from the sunken vessel.

We are trained for hostile environments, but it's hard to be brave when we meet bodies in dark water.
- Diver Hwang Dae-sik

They revealed that most of the bodies found in the last two days had broken fingers, as the children frantically tried to climb the walls or floors in a bid to escape in their last moments.

Diver Hwang Dae-sik told Reuters: "We are trained for hostile environments, but it's hard to be brave when we meet bodies in dark water."

Taskforce spokesman Koh Myung-seok said the work is becoming more difficult, as divers must now break through cabin walls to retrieve more bodies.

"The lounge is one big open space, so once in it, we got our search done straight away. But in the case of the cabins, we will have to break down the walls in between because they are all compartments," he said.

Mr Koh, of the taskforce, said bodies have mostly been found on the third and fourth floors of the ferry, where many passengers seemed to have gathered.

As the process of recovering the bodies continues, thousands of mourners have been visiting a temporary memorial to pay their respects to the victims.

People pay tribute to the ferry disaster victims at a group memorial altar at the Ansan Olympic Memorial Hall Getty

The altar of the memorial is made up of a wall of white and yellow flowers, surrounding photos of 47 students and teachers whose bodies have been identified after being recovered from the ferry Sewol.

At the nearby auditorium of the Olympic Memorial Museum, visitors walked past a line of wreaths sent from across the country and placed white chrysanthemums on the altar.

A big screen on the left of the altar showed pictures of the missing students, all in school uniforms, while another screen on the right displayed a stream of text messages from the public expressing condolences.

By noon, the line of mourners stretched to the street, many of them in black suits and black dresses.

"This was the only thing I could do for the students," said Lee Ae-ri, who lives in another city about a half-hour drive away. "I can't stay long inside because I feel like tearing up."

two girls

A few blocks from the memorial, Danwon high school was sombre. Children retuning to lessons, many of whose friends were missing or reported dead, are being visited by counselors and psychiatrists to help them with their grief.

Hong Hyun-ju, a psychiatrist who is one of 50 medical professionals from outside the high school giving psychological treatment and counseling to students, teachers and parents said: "Many of them are feeling guilt and resentment. Some students are in a blank state, unable to express any feelings."

Seniors' classes will begin on Thursday and younger grades next week. Classes during the first two days will focus on helping students cope with the loss and trauma of the tragedy, with assistance from psychiatrists and professional counselors. It's not clear when the 75 students who survived will return as most remain hospitalized, many suffering mental stress.

Meanwhile, friends and parents have been leaving heartbreaking messages at the school for their missing children.

"Our Jung-hoon is a nice kid," read one message, left on a door. "Please. Save him. If he won't come back, please send him to a good place."

Three of the school's teachers were rescued from the boat. A vice principal reportedly took his own life being unable to cope with the guilt of surviving when hundreds of the school's children were still missing.

Twenty-two of the 29 members of the ferry's crew survived, and 11 have been arrested or detained in connection with the investigation.

Captain Lee Joon-Seok
Joon-Seok bowed his head as he made a televised apology to the people of South Korea.

The captain, Lee Joon-seok, and two crew members were arrested on suspicion of negligence and abandoning people in need.

The cause of the disaster is not yet known however it has emerged that the ship was carrying three times the maximum recommended cargo.

Shareholders of the Sewol's owner, Chonghaejin Marine Co, apologised in a statement which was distributed to reporters outside the office in Incheon, saying they feel "infinite sadness and responsibility" for the tragedy.

"We will humbly accept all responsibility for this accident and we will not hesitate to do anything to console the pain of victims and grieving families even a little bit,"' said the statement.

Rescuers were able to save 174 people from the freezing waters, with the remaining passengers feared drowned.

If the fears of more loss of life prove correct, it would make the Sewol sinking South Korea's worst maritime disaster for 21 years.