South Korea school reopens after ferry disaster

Counsellors have been brought in to help the schoolchildren

The South Korean school devastated by the loss of many of its students in a ferry disaster last week has started to hold classes again.

More than 300 students from Danwon high school, located south of Seoul, were on the Sewol ferry when it capsized.

Most of the students are dead, or missing inside the sunken hull.

The ferry sank last week as it sailed from Incheon to Jeju Island. More than 160 people have been confirmed dead, as search teams work to recover bodies.

There were 476 people on board, with many trapped inside as the ferry listed and sank within two hours of distress signals being sent. A total of 174 passengers were rescued.

Almost 250 students and teachers from Danwon have been confirmed dead or are presumed to have died, Reuters news agency says.

Most of the students who survived the disaster remain in hospital and it is not clear when they will return to school.

Final year students returned to Danwon school on Thursday, however. Dozens of counsellors have been brought in to help with the trauma that many of the students are expected to face.

Students from Danwon high school weep after tribute at a group memorial altar for victims of sunken passengers ship at the Ansan Olympic Memorial Hall on 23 April 2014 in Ansan, South Korea Danwon has become a memorial site over the past week, with people holding services for those who died

Over the past week, Danwon high school has become a memorial site - flowers and messages piling up outside the gates and funeral rites taking place in classrooms, says the BBC's Lucy Williamson in Seoul.

Messages posted in classrooms reportedly included: "If I see you again, I'll tell you I love you, because I haven't said it to you enough."

Many in South Korea are worried about what this tragedy will mean for the children - the missing faces in Danwon's classrooms and the knowledge of how fallible their protectors can be, our correspondent adds.

On Wednesday, an emotional memorial service took place near the school, with friends and family members laying flowers in front of photographs of some of those who died.

Graphic showing location of sunken ferry and timeline of events
'Save us!'

The cause of the capsize is still being investigated, with the government under strong public pressure to find out what happened.

The first distress call from the sinking ferry was made by a student from Danwon, officials said.

"Save us! We're on a ship and I think it's sinking," Yonhap news agency quoted him as saying. On Thursday, news reports said the body of the boy had been found.

Reports suggest that passengers were told to remain in their rooms and cabins as the ship listed, amid confusion on the bridge over whether to order them to abandon ship.

Of the ferry's crew, 22 of the 29 survived. Twenty crew members, including the captain, have been detained or arrested and face charges including negligence of duty, Yonhap says.

The captain of the ferry, 69, was not on the bridge when the ferry capsized, with a third mate at the helm.

A crew member quoted by local media said that attempts to launch lifeboats were unsuccessful because the ship was listing badly.

South Korean prosecutors are pursuing a wide-ranging investigation and are looking into the ferry operator and its affiliated organisations.

An opposition politician released a document earlier this week saying the Sewol was carrying more than three times its maximum recommended cargo, reports say.

Other reports have suggested that the ferry did not take sufficient ballast to balance its cargo load. But a senior engineer on the ferry was quoted by AFP news agency as saying that there were "no problems" with the engines or ballast tanks.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye has condemned the conduct of some of the crew, calling it "akin to murder".

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