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South Korea ferry death toll reaches 108

Posted by Nuttapon_S On April - 22 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

More bodies found but 194 remain missing, as rescue operations are ramped up under better weather conditions.

The official death toll from the South Korean capsized ferry has now reached 108, according to the South Korean coast guard.

The coast guard updated the toll as of Tuesday afternoon, as search operations were ramped up under better weather conditions.

“(The rescue team) have retrieved more bodies so the death toll is 108 as of 1500 (local time),” South Korean coast guard official Ko Myung-suk said at a news briefing.

Of the 479 passengers and crew on board, only 174 people have been rescued and 194 remain missing, presumed drowned.

Of those aboard, 339 were children and teachers on a high school outing.

The Sewol ferry sank last Wednesday on a routine trip south from the port of Incheon to the traditional honeymoon island of Jeju.

Crew detained

Meanwhile, four crew members were taken into police custody on Monday, and were paraded, heads bowed and hiding their faces, before TV cameras on Tuesday.

The detained crew members said they did their best to launch life rafts, and one suggested possible technical reasons for the ship capsizing.

“We tried to gain access to the rafts but the whole ship was already tilted too much”, one crew member said when asked why only one of the Sewol’s 46 life rafts had been used.

“We tried to launch the life rafts but it was hard to get to where they were,” another said.

The 6,825-tonne Sewol had 29 crew, including its captain Lee Jeon-Sook.

Twenty of them escaped the ferry as it sank last Wednesday morning, and there has been public outrage at reports they were among the first to evacuate while hundreds remained trapped in the vessel.

One crew member, apparently an officer, suggested the ferry had a structural flaw that made it difficult to regain equilibrium once it had been lost.

The ship was built in 1994 in Japan and purchased by the Cheonghaejin Marine Company in 2012.

The officer also mentioned “some errors” with the steering system. The Sewol capsized after making a sharp right turn.

This led experts to suggest its cargo manifest might have shifted, causing it to list beyond a critical point of return.

Lee and two other crew members were arrested over the weekend and charged with criminal negligence, before the arrests on Monday.

South Korea ferry: Death toll passes 100

Posted by Rattana_S On April - 22 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

The confirmed death toll from the South Korean ferry that capsized last week has passed 100, as divers recovered more bodies from the sunken hull.

A total of 104 people are now known to have died, but another 198 are missing, presumed trapped inside the vessel.

The ferry tipped over and sank within two hours, but it is not yet clear why.

Seven crew members have been detained, however, amid intense criticism of their failure to evacuate all passengers as the ship listed.

Passengers were told to remain in rooms and cabins, reports suggest, amid confusion on the bridge over whether to order them to abandon ship.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye on Monday condemned the conduct of some of the crew, calling it “akin to murder”.

Robot ready

A total of 174 passengers were rescued from the Sewol, which capsized as it sailed from Incheon in the north-west to the southern island of Jeju.

But there were 476 people on board, including 339 children and teachers on a school trip. Many were trapped inside the ship as it listed to one side and then sank.

Military divers have been searching the ship for those who died. Bodies of victims are being brought back to the port on Jindo island at a steady rate now, reports the BBC’s Jonathan Head, who is in Jindo.

Divers have managed to reach many of the cabins in the hull of the upturned ferry, although they are still trying to get into the ship’s restaurant, where they believe many of the passengers were trapped.

They have also loaded an underwater robot at the port this morning, ready to be used in the operation to bring the hull to the surface, our correspondent adds.

Rescue officials say they will keep searching with divers for another two days, but that the families of the victims have agreed that the salvage operation can begin after that.

Investigations are focusing on whether the ferry took too sharp a turn – perhaps destabilising the vessel – before it started listing and whether an earlier evacuation order could have saved lives.

Captain Lee Joon-seok was not on the bridge when the ferry began listing. It was being steered by a third mate who had never navigated the waters where the accident occurred, prosecutors say.

The captain and two other crew members have been charged with negligence of duty and violation of maritime law. Four more crew members were detained on Monday.

Jindo, South Korea (CNN) — Passengers aboard the doomed South Korean ferry couldn’t reach lifeboats to escape because the ship tilted so quickly that it left many of them unable to move, according to a radio transcript released Sunday.

“Please notify the coast guard. Our ship is in danger. The ship is rolling right now,” a crew member on the ship first tells authorities in a dramatic conversation that took place while the Sewol ferry was sinking.

An unidentified crew member on the Sewol talked to two different Vessel Traffic Service centers as the ship sank Wednesday morning, the transcript revealed. Someone on the ship contacted the traffic service in Jeju — the ferry’s destination — at 8:55 a.m. and communicated with it before the conversation switched to Jindo VTS, which was closer, about 11 minutes later.

“The ship rolled over a lot right now. Cannot move. Please come quickly,” the crew member says a minute after initial contact.

At one point Jeju advises the crew to get people into life vests.

“It is hard for people to move,” Sewol replies.

After the conversation switches to the traffic service in Jindo, the Sewol crew member says several times that the ship is leaning too much for passengers to move.

Sewol: “Our ship is listing and may capsize.”

Jindo VTS: “How are the passengers doing? …”

Sewol: “It’s too listed that they are not able to move.”

A short time later, another exchange takes place:

Jindo VTS: “Are the passengers able to escape?”

Sewol: “The ship listed too much, so it is impossible.”

The transcript may help answer one of the major questions about the capsizing: Why didn’t more passengers escape on lifeboats?

Many missing, scores killed

At least 64 people have died in the sinking, and 238 are missing, the South Korean coast guard said Monday.

Search crews brought more than a dozen bodies to shore Sunday morning, a solemn process pierced by screams and cries from the passengers’ families.

The wrenching scene came after four police boats arrived in rapid succession. The first carried four bodies. The second boat had three more. The third and fourth also carried three bodies each.

Each body was taken onto a stretcher on the dock in Jindo, draped in cloth. After an inspection, they were carried along a path guarded by police — who were also shedding tears — and past grieving family members.

Some relatives refused to accept the outcome.

“Wake up! Wake up, please!” one man screamed.

With hundreds of people still missing, the heartbreaking scene will likely play out over and over again.

Although 174 people were rescued shortly after the vessel sank Wednesday, no survivors have been found since.

Nonetheless, 563 divers will continue plunging into the frigid Yellow Sea on Sunday. And 34 aircraft and 204 ships will aid in the search Sunday, the country’s Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries said.

One diver described his experience to CNN affiliate JTBC on Sunday. Teams have been focusing on the third and fourth floors of the ship, where investigators believe many of the missing might be.

“It’s hard to say exactly where you are once you enter the ferry, since it is completely dark and you basically have to feel your way around based only on the blueprint of the ferry,” diving team leader Hwang Dae Sik said. “So it is hard to say definitively in what compartment you are searching and what your are discovering.”

As they wait, relatives of the missing have been asked to submit DNA samples.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye on Sunday declared the cities of Ansan and Jindo as special disaster zones eligible for national disaster assistance programs, in order to facilitate central government help, a spokesman for the Joint Task Force Headquarters said in a news release.

Ship’s captain defends evacuation

According to the transcript, Jindo Vessel Traffic Service urged the captain to take charge.

Jindo VTS: “The captain should make (the) decision to make people escape. We do not know the situation so captain make final decision on passengers’ escape.”

The captain has defended his order to delay the evacuation of the ferry.

“It is a fairly fast current area, and the water temperature was cold,” Capt. Lee Joon Seok said, according to CNN affiliate YTN.

“I thought that abandoning the ship without discretion would make you drift off a fairly far distance and cause a lot of trouble. At the same time, the rescue ship did not come, and there were no fishing boats or supporting ships around to help at that time.”

The captain has been charged with abandoning his boat, negligence, causing bodily injury, not seeking rescue from other ships and violating “seamen’s law,” state media reported.

Prosecutor Lee Bong-chang gave more details about the accusations against the captain.

“Mr. Lee is charged with causing the Sewol ship to sink by failing to slow down while sailing the narrow route and making (a) turn excessively,” the prosecutor told the semiofficial Yonhap news agency.

“Lee is also charged with failing to do the right thing to guide the passengers to escape and thereby leading to their death or injury.”

If convicted, the captain faces from five years to life in prison.

The captain wasn’t at the helm of the Sewol when it started to sink, the prosecutor said. A third mate was at the helm.

So where was the captain?

The captain was not in the steering room when the accident took place, according to police and his own account.

He said he plotted the ship’s course, and then went to his cabin briefly “to tend to something.” It was then, the captain said, that the accident happened.

A crew member, described as the third mate and identified only as Park, appeared in handcuffs with Lee.

The third mate said she did not make a sharp turn, but “the steering turned much more than usual.”

Park is facing charges including negligence and causing injuries leading to deaths, said Yang Joong-jin, a maritime police spokesman.

A technician with the surname Cho is also facing the same charges, he said.

The captain was one those rescued soon after the Sewol began to sink, violating an “internationally recognized rule that a captain must stay on the vessel,” maritime law attorney Jack Hickey said.

“Pretty much every law, rule, regulation and standard throughout the world says that yes, the captain must stay with the ship until all personnel are safely off of the ship, certainly passengers.”

Jindo, South Korea (CNN) — A South Korean captain, standing in handcuffs before reporters, defended his order to delay the evacuation of his sinking ferry, CNN affiliate YTN reported early Saturday.

The news of Lee Joon Seok’s arrest in connection with the sinking that left at least 29 people dead and more than 270 missing came as divers made their way to the third deck inside the wreckage where they found three bodies, according to the South Korean coast guard.

The divers wern’t able to recover the three bodies from a compartment, the coast guard said. Another 40 dives are planned for Saturday in an attempt to get inside the ferry, the coast guards’ Koh Myung Seok told reporters.

Lee has been charged with abandoning his boat, negligence, causing bodily injury, not seeking rescue from other ships, and violating “seamen’s law,” state media reported, citing prosecutors and police

The charges against Lee appear to shed some light on what authorities have focused on in their efforts to find out what happened to the ferry making its way Wednesday from Incheon to the resort island of Jeju. It sank in frigid waters 20 kilometers (roughly 12 miles) off the coast of South Korea’s southern peninsula.

“Mr. Lee is charged with causing the Sewol ship to sink by failing to slow down while sailing the narrow route and making (a) turn excessively,” prosecutor Lee Bong-chang told the semi-official Yonhap news agency.

“Lee is also charged with failing to do the right thing to guide the passengers to escape and thereby leading to their death or injury.”

If convicted, Lee faces from five years to life in prison.

A South Korean prosecutor said Lee wasn’t at the helm of the Sewol when it started to sink; a third mate was at the helm.

Where was captain?

“It is not clear where he was when the accident occurred, although it is clear that he was not in the steering room before the actual accident happened,” state prosecutor Jae-Eok Park said.

A crew member, described as the third mate, appeared with Lee and, like the captain, the third mate was in handcuffs. The man was identified only as Park.

It was unclear if he was one of two other crew members who authorities have said also faced arrest in connection with the sinking.

A spokesman for the joint prosecutor and police investigators declined to provide further details.

As the captain left a court hearing early Saturday, police led him to reporters, where he answered questions.

“The tidal current was strong and water temperature was cold, and there was no rescue boat,” Lee told reporters, according to CNN affiliate YTN. “So I had everyone stand by and wait for the rescue boat to arrive.”

Lee acknowledged that he plotted the ship’s course, and then went to his cabin briefly “to tend to something.”

It was then, he said, the accident happened.

The third mate, who was at the helm of the ship when Lee left, said he did not make a sharp turn. Rather, he said, “the steering turned much more than usual.”

The captain was one of at least 174 people rescued soon after the Sewol began to sink, violating an “age-old rule and internationally recognized rule that a captain must stay on the vessel,” maritime law attorney Jack Hickey said.

“Pretty much every law, rule, regulation and standard throughout the world says that yes, the captain must stay with the ship until all personnel are safely off of the ship, certainly passengers.”

Scores of ships on water, divers plunge below it

Hopes of finding the missing alive dimmed further when the entire boat became submerged Friday. Until then, part of the ship’s blue-and-white hull was still poking out of the frigid waters of the Yellow Sea.

The coast guard said workers continued to pump air into the hull of the submerged ship but could not stop its descent.

Still, divers breached the hull of the sunken ferry, and two managed to enter the second deck — the cargo deck, the South Korean coast guard said. But rough waters forced them out. They didn’t find any bodies in their brief search.

The effort was still underway in earnest Saturday morning featuring helicopters circling above the water and about 120 vessels — from large warships to fishing ships to dinghies — in the water, in addition to the divers under it.

Four cranes also sit about 500 yards from the focal point, ready to lift the ferry if and when the order comes in.

That hasn’t happened yet, though, with authorities not yet giving up on finding survivors.

Compounding the tragedy, one of those rescued — a high school vice principal who was on board the ferry along with more than 300 students — was found hanging from a tree, police said.

Kang Min Kyu, 52, vice principal of Ansan Danwon High School, was among the first survivors to be rescued.

Police said he apparently hanged himself, using a belt, from a tree near a gymnasium in Jindo, where distraught relatives of missing passengers have been camping.

Police confirmed a suicide note was found, but declined to release its contents.

Anger and disgust

Relatives of passengers expressed increasing disgust and anger about the lack of explanation from the captain and the pace of the rescue effort.

Some have waited for days in the cold rain at a harbor in Jindo.

Others camped at a nearby gymnasium and auditorium, desperate to hear any news of their loved ones. Relatives overcome with emotion howled and screamed, but to no avail.

“Hurry up, find it faster!” one woman wailed.

Any hope for survival largely hinges on whether passengers may be in air pockets within the ship, which isn’t unheard of in such cases.

In May 2013, a tugboat capsized off West Africa. Rescuers pulled out a man from 100 feet below the surface who survived 2½ days inside a 4-square-foot air pocket.

That’s one reason family members aren’t ready to give up hope.

Part of the frustration stems from the conflicting information reported by officials.

In the hours after the sinking, some analysts speculated the ferry may have veered off course and struck an object. But the South Korean Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries said Thursday that it had approved the boat’s intended route, and the actual course did not deviate significantly.

But Kim Soo Hyeon, chief of South Korea’s Yellow Sea Maritime Police Agency, later said the ship apparently deviated from its planned route but did not appear to have hit a rock.

‘Ship is tilted’

The Ministry of Ocean and Fisheries released a transcript of the conversation between the ferry and center that monitors vessel traffic.

After alerting the center that the ferry was rolling, the Sewol stated that “the body of the ship is tilted to the left. Containers fell over, too.”

The control center then asked if people were hurt. Impossible to confirm because it was impossible to move, the ferry responded.

The center told the ferry crew to get people ready for evacuation, and the ferry once again described how hard it was for people to move.

Adding to the pain for families, police said texts and social media messages claiming to be from missing passengers turned out to be fake.

Media outlets, including CNN, shared the texts with a wide audience.

“We will investigate people sending out these messages,” said Lee Sung Yoon, head of the combined police and prosecution team.

He said authorities will go after those behind the hoaxes and will “punish them severely.”

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