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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.

South Korea ferry disaster: Families’ anger erupts

Posted by Nuttapon_S On April - 20 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

Families of passengers on a sunken South Korean ferry have protested angrily over the rescue operation.

Police stopped up to 100 people trying to leave Jindo island intending to march to the country’s capital, Seoul.

After more than three days, divers have now finally entered the ferry, retrieving 26 bodies and bringing the death toll to 58.

However, another 244 people are still missing from the Sewol ferry, which sank on Wednesday.

Some 174 passengers were rescued.

‘Lying’

Since the capsize, many of the relatives of those on board have been on Jindo, in the south-west of the country.

Hundreds have been camping at a gymnasium on the island, awaiting news from the rescue operation.

Scuffles broke out when some family members tried to cross a bridge to the mainland, reportedly to march on the Presidential Blue House in Seoul, some 420km (260 miles) to the north.

“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, said: “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.”

Relatives are anxious for the bodies to be retrieved before they decompose.

The BBC’s Jonathan Head on Jindo says even the prime minister came down to try to dissuade the protesters from marching on Seoul, with officials worried that the controversy could turn into a national political issue and harm the government.

Jonathan Head: “This is still a very slow process, painfully slow for the families”

Boats carrying 13 of the recently retrieved bodies arrived at Paengmok Port on Jindo on Sunday.

Graphic showing location of sunken ferry and timeline of events

About 200 ships, 34 aircraft and 600 divers have been taking part in the search operation, our correspondent says.

Squid fishing boats with powerful lights have been brought in to help the divers operate at night.

But the currents are still strong and the visibility remains challenging.

Coastguard official Koh Myung-seok told a briefing that divers had discovered a number of routes into the ferry, and found bodies in different locations.

‘Inexperienced’

The captain and two other crew members are in custody and have been charged with negligence of duty and violation of maritime law.

Officials said on Saturday that the ferry was being steered by an inexperienced third mate in unfamiliar waters when it sank.

A family member of a passenger missing after the South Korean ferry "Sewol" capsized demonstrates in front of police during a protest in Jindo calling for a meeting with President Park Geun-hye and demanding the search and rescue operation be speeded up, April 20
Tempers have flared at times between relatives of those on board and police
South Korean Prime Minister Chung Hong-Won (2nd R) talks with relatives of missing passengers of a capsized ferry during a street protest condemning the government's rescue operations in Jindo early on April 20
The South Korea prime minister Chung Hong-won addressed the relatives directly on Sunday
 South Korean rescue workers carry the body of a passenger who was on the capsized passenger ship Sewol which sank in the sea off Jindo, at a port where family members of missing passengers gather in Jindo April 20
Rescue workers unloaded some of the bodies at a port in Jindo on Sunday

The captain of the ferry, 69-year-old Lee Joon-seok, was not initially on the bridge when the ship ran into trouble.

The Sewol, carrying 476 passengers and crew, capsized during a journey from the port of Incheon in the north-west to the southern holiday island of Jeju.

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

Some experts believe the ship’s tight turn could have dislodged heavy cargo and destabilised the vessel, while others suggest the sinking could have been caused by a collision with a rock.

Messages and phone calls from those inside painted a picture of people trapped in crowded corridors, unable to escape the sharply-listing ferry.

Footage from the ship appeared to show instructions from crew members for passengers to remain on board even as it tilted dramatically to one side.

Some 350 of those on board were students from Danwon High School in Ansan, a suburb of Seoul, who were on a school outing when the ferry sank.

bbc graphic

On Saturday officials said the operation to recover the ship may take up to two months.

They have so far delayed raising the ferry because of the possibility of endangering possible survivors.

Now officials admit that it is very unlikely for anyone else to have survived.

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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