Friday, April 18, 2014

South Korea Ferry Disaster April 18 - 20 , 2014 --- April 20 , 2014 Updates -- Two more bodies recovered, raising death toll from sunken ship to 56 ........ Sewol's crew appears to have begun evacuation 40 minutes after distress call ....... -- April 19 , 2014 Updates -- Death Toll rises to 32 , 270 missing , the Ferry Sewol has sunk , Captain and two Crew Members arrested ...... April 18 , 2014 news of note - S Korea prosecutors seek ferry captain arrest , Death toll rises as details emerge that captain was not at the helm when ferry capsized....... S. Korea Ferry Incident: Transcript shows ferry captain delayed evacuation ....... S. Korea Ferry Incident: Divers pumping air into submerged ship

Updates April 22 , 2014 ....


S. Korea Ferry Incident: Death toll reaches 121, 181 still missing

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JINDO , South Korea: The confirmed death toll from South Korea’s ferry disaster rose sharply to more than 120 today as divers speeded up the grim task of recovering bodies from the submerged ship and police took two more of its crew into custody.

Better weather and calm seas spurred their efforts but underwater visibility was still very poor, forcing divers to grope their way blindly though the corridors and cabins of the ferry that capsized and sank last Wednesday.
Nearly one week into one of South Korea’s worst peacetime disasters, close to 200 of the 476 people who were aboard the 6,825-tonne Sewol — most of them schoolchildren — are still unaccounted for.
The official toll stood at 121, with 181 still missing.
Distraught families of victims gathered in the morning at the harbour on Jindo island — not far from the disaster site — awaiting the increasingly frequent arrival of boats with bodies.

In the initial days after the Sewol went down, their anger was focused on the pace of the rescue effort.
With all hope of finding any survivors essentially gone, this has turned to growing impatience with the effort to locate and retrieve the bodies of those trapped.
“I just want my son back,” said the father of one missing student. “I need to be able to hold him and say goodbye. I can’t bear the idea of him in that cold, dark place.” The disaster has profoundly shocked South Korea, a proudly modernised nation that thought it had left behind large-scale accidents of this type.
The sense of national grief is accompanied by an equally deep but largely unfocused anger that has been vented towards pretty much anyone in authority.
Coastguard officials have been slapped and punched, senior politicians — including the prime minister — pushed and heckled, and rescue teams criticised for their slow response.
If there is a chief hate figure, it is the ferry’s captain Lee Joon-Seok, who was arrested at the weekend and charged with criminal negligence and abandoning his passengers.
Six members of his crew are also under arrest and prosecutors said two more were taken into police custody today.
President Park Geun-Hye, who faced a hostile crowd when she met relatives on Jindo last week, has described the actions of Lee and his crew as being tantamount to murder”. Four of the detained crew were paraded — heads bowed and faces hidden — before TV cameras today, and asked why only one of the Sewol’s 46 life rafts had been deployed.

“We tried to gain access to the rafts but the whole ship was already tilted too much,” one of them responded.
The Sewol capsized after making a sharp right turn — leading experts to suggest its cargo manifest might have shifted, causing it to list beyond a critical point of return.
The large death toll has partly been attributed to the captain’s instruction for passengers to stay where they were for around 40 minutes after the ferry ran into trouble.
By the time the evacuation order came, the ship was listing so badly that escape was almost impossible.
A transcript released Sunday of the crew’s final communications with marine transport control illustrated the sense of panic and confusion on the bridge before the ferry sank.
Captain Lee has insisted he acted in the passengers’ best interest, delaying the order to abandon ship because he feared people would be swept away and drowned.
Nearly 750 divers, mostly coastguard and military, are now involved in the operation.
“The weather is better, but it’s still very difficult for the divers who are essentially fumbling for bodies in the silted water,” a coastguard official told reporters.
A priority for today is to access the ferry’s main dining hall.
“We believe there are many bodies there as the accident took place in the morning when students must have been eating breakfast,” the official said.
Of the 476 people on board the Sewol, 352 were students from the Danwon High School in Ansan city just south of Seoul, who were on an organised trip to the holiday island of Jeju.

Among the bodies recovered so far were those of three foreign nationals — believed to be a Russian and two Chinese.
Giant floating cranes have been at the disaster site off the southern coast for days, but many relatives remain opposed to raising the ferry before all the bodies have been removed.--AFP
The orange sun begins to set above searchers and divers looking for bodies of passengers believed to have been trapped in the sunken ferry Sewol in the water off the southern coast near Jindo, south of Seoul, South Korea. AP Photo





Updates - April 20 , 2014 --

S. Korea Ferry Incident: Delay in ferry 

evacuation puzzles maritime experts

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MOKPO: It is a decision that has maritime experts stumped and is at odds with standard procedure: Why were the passengers of the doomed South Korean ferry told to stay in their rooms rather than climb on deck?

    Evacuations can be chaotic and

dangerous, and an important principle in

maritime circles is that even a damaged ship

may be the best lifeboat. But car ferries like

the Sewol, which left about 300 people

missing or dead when it sank Wednesday,

are different.  
    Under certain conditions — like those that

confronted the Sewol — car ferries are

particularly susceptible to rapid capsizing.

    This makes it critically important that

when there is trouble, the crew quickly

evacuate passengers, or at least gather

them in preparation to abandon ship.  
   Though experienced, the captain of the

Sewol, Lee Joon-seok, delayed evacuation

for at least half an hour after the ship began

tipping. Passengers, most of them teenagers

on holiday, were initially told to stay below

deck.  
   “If you would have not said a word to

them, they would have left to the deck to

see what was going on,” and a crucial step

in any evacuation would have been

accomplished, said Mario Vittone, a former

U.S. Coast Guard maritime accident

investigator and inspector. “They certainly

made it worse than saying nothing at all.”  

   Lee has worked about four decades at

sea, split between ferries and ocean

freighters. A representative for his employer,

Chonghaejin Marine Co. Ltd., told Yonhap

News Agency that he has sailed the

company’s route from Incheon, near Seoul,

to the southern island of Jeju for eight

years. A member of his crew, Oh Yong-seok,

told The Associated Press that Lee worked

on the ferry about 10 days per month.  

   After his arrest Saturday on suspicion of

negligence and abandoning people in need,

Lee apologized for “causing a disturbance”

but defended his decision to wait.  


 

 “At the time, the current was very strong,

the temperature of the ocean water was

cold, and I thought that if people left the

ferry without (proper) judgment, if they were

not wearing a life jacket, and even if they

were, they would drift away and face many

other difficulties,” Lee said.

   “The rescue boats had not arrived yet, nor

were there any civilian fishing ships or other

boats nearby at that time.”  
   
 
Vittone and Thad Allen, the former head of

the U.S. Coast Guard, said that explanation

misses a key point: The captain could have

ordered passengers on deck, even if it was

not certain that they would have to evacuate

the ferry.

   Allen said in an email that two things

needed to be done simultaneously: “Keep

trying to save the ship but mitigate the risk

to loss of life by preparing the passengers to

abandon ship.”  

   Vittone said in an email that while an

evacuation would carry risks, there would

be no risk in gathering passengers at

“muster stations,” designated areas the

crew would identify during a safety

demonstration early in the voyage.

   From these areas, crew members could

make sure everyone had life vests on and

then direct people to emergency exits.  
 

 “He could have always changed his order if

the ship wasn’t sinking,” he said. “Worst

case then would have been that he would

have made his passengers suffer the

inconvenience of standing around on deck

for a few minutes.”  

   While it is not yet certain just what

happened with the Sewol, car ferries can tip

quickly because of what is known as the

“free surface effect.” Water that collects on

the car deck, which extends the length of

the ship, can accelerate the capsizing as it

sloshes around.


 

 This is not an issue with other ferries,

whose decks near the water line are

compartmentalized. Even a modest shift in a

car ferry’s cargo could tilt the ship initially,

and if water enters the car deck, the free

surface effect could take hold.   


   Once the Sewol started listing severely,

life boats were submerged on one side and

equally useless on the other, where gravity

held them to the side of the ferry.

Passengers became trapped as the ship

tilted so badly that walls became ceilings.  

   Following a pair of European sinkings in

which more than 1,000 people died — the

Herald of Free Enterprise in 1987 and the

Estonia in 1994 — the United Nations’

International Maritime Organization studied

car ferry design flaws as well as how best to

evacuate vessels.  

   The changes, which included better

escape routes and an evacuation analysis in

the design process, applied to newly built

ships. The Sewol was built in 1994, and thus

was not subject to these regulations.  

 
 Car ferry crews should know that once the

ship becomes unstable, a quick evacuation

is essential, maritime experts said.  


   The head of the association that

represents passenger ferries said he was

puzzled by the lack of a command to head

to muster stations, though he cautioned that

a reasonable explanation may emerge.  

   “It’s important because in the case that

there is an evacuation order eventually,

people are prepared,” said Len Roueche,

CEO of Interferry, a Canada-based

association that represents the ferry

industry worldwide.  


   Members of the Korea Research Institute

of Ships and Ocean Engineering noted the

problems with evacuating passenger ships

in a 2003 study.


   Because passengers are unfamiliar with

the often narrow and potentially complex

passageways, “they may be confused in

selecting evacuation routes: this could

result in a delay in evacuation time and may

cause some serious consequences,” the

authors wrote.   

   The same paper offered a telling example

of how even under favorable circumstances,

evacuations can be far slower than

anticipated.


   When a high-speed catamaran began

listing in the English Channel in 1995, it took

more than an hour to evacuate 308

passengers, although the seas were

relatively calm and it was daytime. An

evacuation drill well before the accident had

taken eight minutes.  
 

 Under United Nations rules, crews have to

conduct evacuation drills at least every two

months. Because the Sewol’s route was not

between nations, however, it would have

been subject to Korean regulations.   




   Allen, the former Coast Guard chief, said

that whatever the rule books say, common

sense dictates that as a situation

deteriorates beyond salvaging, the crew

needs to pivot from saving the ship to saving

the passengers.   

 

“If there was some period of time when they

thought they could stabilize the boat,

that is the best thing you can do for your

passengers,” Allen said. “But the minute you

think the ship is in danger, you have to act

to get passengers to the boats.”  -- AP



http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr/national/2014/04/20/82/0301000000AEN20140420001400315F.html



Two more bodies recovered, raising death toll from sunken ship to 56




Sewol's crew appears to have begun evacuation 40 minutes after distress call


Updates -April 19 , 2014 .....


New Straits Times....



S. Korea Ferry Incident: Captain, crew members arrested

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MOKPO, South Korea: The captain of a sunken South Korean ferry was arrested today on suspicion of negligence and abandoning people in need, as investigators looked into whether his evacuation order came too late to save lives.

Two crew members were also arrested, a prosecutor said.
The disaster three days ago left more than 270 people missing and at least 29 people dead.
As the last bit of the sunken ferry’s hull slipped Friday beneath the murky water off southern South Korea, there was a new victim: a vice principal of the high school whose students were among the passengers was found hanged, an apparent suicide.
The Sewol had left the northwestern port of Incheon on Tuesday on an overnight journey to the holiday island of Jeju in the south with 476 people aboard, including 323 students from Danwon High School in Ansan.
It capsized within hours of the crew making a distress call to the shore a little before 9 a.m. Wednesday.
Only its dark blue keel jutted out over the surface. But by Friday night, even that had disappeared, and rescuers set two giant beige buoys to mark the area. Navy divers attached underwater air bags to the 6,852-ton ferry to prevent it from sinking deeper, the Defense Ministry said.
The coast guard said divers began pumping air into the ship to try to sustain any survivors.
Strong currents and rain made it difficult to get inside the ferry. Divers worked in shifts to try to get into the vessel, where most of the passengers were believed to have been trapped when it sank, coast guard spokesman Kim Jae-in said.
Investigators said the accident came at a point where the ship had to make a turn, and prosecutor Park Jae-eok said investigators were looking at whether the third mate ordered a turn that was so sharp that it caused the vessel to list.
The sharp turn came between 8:48 a.m. and 8:49 a.m., but it’s not known whether it was done voluntarily or because of some external factor, said Nam Jae-heon, a spokesman for the Maritime Ministry.
Another angle being probed is the role of the captain, 68-year-old Lee Joon-seok.
Senior prosecutor Yang Jung-jin said Lee was detained early today, along with the two crew members. Lee faces five charges including negligence of duty and violation of maritime law, according to the Yonhap news agency.

Yang said earlier that Lee was not on the bridge when the ferry was passing through an area with many islands clustered closely together, something he said is required by law so the captain can help a mate make a turn.
The captain also abandoned people in need of help and escue, he said.
“The captain escaped before the passengers,” Yang said.
Two crewmembers on the bridge of the ferry — a 25-year-old woman and a 55-year-old helmsman — also failed to reduce speed near the islands and conducted a sharp turn, Yang said.
They also did not carry out necessary measures to save lives, he said.
Another focus of the investigation is that a quicker evacuation order by the captain could have saved lives.
Police said the vice principal who was found hanged from a tree on Jindo, an island near the sunken ship where survivors have been housed, had been rescued from the ferry.
Identified as Kang Min-kyu, he was the leader of the students traveling on a school excursion. In his suicide note, Kang said he felt guilty for surviving and wanted to take responsibility for what happened because he had led the trip, according to police.
He asked that his body be cremated and the ashes scattered where the ferry went down.
With only 174 survivors from the 476 aboard and the chances of survival becoming slimmer by the hour, it was shaping up to be one of South Korea’s worst disasters, made all the more heartbreaking by the likely loss of so many young people, aged 16 or 17.
The toll rose to 29 after the body of a woman was recovered, authorities said early today.
The country’s last major ferry disaster was in 1993, when 292 people were killed.
A transcript of a ship-to-shore radio exchange and interviews by The Associated Press showed the captain delayed the evacuation for half an hour after a South Korean transportation official told the ship it might have to evacuate.
The recommendation by the unidentified official at the Jeju Vessel Traffic Services Center came at 9 a.m., just five minutes after a distress call by the Sewol. In the exchange, the Sewol crewmember says:
“Currently the body of the ship has listed to the left. The containers have listed as well.”
The Jeju VTS officer responds: “OK. Any loss of human life or injuries?” The ship’s answer is: “It’s impossible to check right now. The body of the ship has tilted, and it’s impossible to move.”
The VTS officer then says: “Yes, OK. Please wear life jackets and prepare as the people might have to abandon ship.”
“It’s hard for people to move,” replies the crew member on the radio.
Oh Yong-seok, a helmsman on the ferry, told the AP that the first instructions from the captain were for passengers to put on life jackets and stay where they were as the crew tried to control the ship.
About 30 minutes later, the captain finally gave the order to evacuate, Oh said, adding that he wasn’t sure if, in the confusion and chaos on the bridge, the order was relayed to the passengers.
Several survivors told the AP that they never heard any evacuation order.
Lee, the captain, made a brief, videotaped appearance with his face hidden by a gray hoodie. “I am really sorry and deeply ashamed,” Lee said. “I don’t know what to say.”
Three vessels with cranes arrived at the accident site to prepare to salvage the ferry. But they will not hoist the ship before getting approval from family members of those still believed inside because the lifting could endanger any survivors, said a coast guard officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, citing department rules.
On Jindo, angry and distraught relatives watched the rescue attempts. Some held a Buddhist prayer ritual, crying and praying for their relatives.
“I want to jump into the water with them,” said Park Geum-san, 59, the great-aunt of a missing student, Park Ye-ji. “My loved one is under the water and it’s raining. Anger is not enough.”
Chonghaejin Marine Co. Ltd, in Incheon, the operator of the ferry, added more cabin rooms to three floors after its 2012 purchase of the ship, which was built in Japan in 1994, an official at the private Korean Register of Shipping told the AP.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the matter was still under investigation, said the extension work between October 2012 and February 2013 increased the Sewol’s weight by 187 tons and added enough room for 117 more people.
The Sewol had a capacity of 921 when it sank.
As is common in South Korea, the ship’s owner paid for a safety check by the Korean Register of Shipping, which found that the Sewol passed all safety tests, including whether it could stabilise in the event of tilting, the official said.
Prosecutors raided and seized materials and documents from the ship’s operator, as well as six companies that had conducted safety checks, revamped the ship, or loaded container boxes, a sign that investigators will likely examine the ship’s addition of rooms and how containers were loaded.--AP

Lee Joon-seok, center, the captain of the sunken ferry Sewol in the water off the southern coast, leaves a court which issued his arrest warrant in Mokpo, south of Seoul, South Korea. AP Photo



S. Korea Ferry Incident: Death toll rose to 32, Captain in custody

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MOKPO: The captain of the ferry that sank off South Korea, leaving more than 300 missing or dead, was arrested Saturday on suspicion of negligence and abandoning people in need.

   Two crew members also were taken into custody, including a rookie third mate who a prosecutor said was steering in challenging waters unfamiliar to her when the accident occurred.  


   The number of confirmed dead rose to 32 when three bodies were found in the murky water near the ferry, said coast guard spokesman Kim Jae-in. Divers know at least some bodies remain inside the vessel, but they have been unable to get inside.  

   The ferry’s captain, Lee Joon-seok, 68, was arrested along with one of the Sewol’s three helmsmen and the 25-year-old third mate, prosecutors 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,” Lee told reporters Saturday morning as he left the Mokpo Branch of Gwangju District Court to be jailed.
   But he defended his much-criticized decision to wait about 30 minutes before ordering an evacuation.  
   “At the time, the current was very strong, the temperature of the ocean water was cold, and I thought that if people left the ferry without (proper) judgment, if they were not wearing a life jacket, and even if they were, they would drift away and face many other difficulties,” Lee said.
   “The rescue boats had not arrived yet, nor were there any civilian fishing ships or other boats nearby at that time.”  
   The Sewol sank off South Korea’s southern coast Wednesday with 476 people aboard, most of them students on holiday from a single high school. More than 270 people are still missing, and most are believed to be trapped inside the 6,852-ton vessel.   
   By the time the evacuation order was issued, the ship was listing at too steep an angle for many people to escape the tight hallways and stairs inside. Several survivors told The Associated Press that they never heard any evacuation order.  
   Divers fighting strong currents and rain have been unable to get inside the ferry. A civilian diver saw three bodies inside the ship Saturday but was unable to break the windows, said Kwon Yong-deok, a coast guard official.
   Hundreds of civilian, government and military divers were involved in the search Saturday.  
   Senior prosecutor Yang Jung-jin told reporters that the third mate was steering the ship Wednesday morning as it passed through an area with lots of islands clustered close together and fast currents.

   Investigators said the accident came at a point where the ship had to make a turn, and prosecutor Park Jae-eok said investigators were looking at whether the third mate ordered a turn so sharp that it caused the vessel to list.  
   Yang said the third mate has six months of experience, and hadn’t steered in the area before because another mate usually handles those duties.
   She took the wheel this time because heavy fog caused a departure delay, Yang said, adding that investigators do not know whether the ship was going faster than usual.  
   Helmsman Park Kyung-nam identified the third mate as Park Han-kyul. The helmsman who was arrested, 55-year-old Cho Joon-ki, spoke to reporters outside court and accepted some responsibility.   
   “There was a mistake on my part as well, but the steering had been turned much more than usual,” Cho said.  
   Lee has four decades of experience at sea. He had been captaining ferries for 10 years by the time he was interviewed by the Jeju Today website in 2004, and said he had sailed on ocean freighters for 20 years before that.  
   But he was not the Sewol’s main captain, and worked on the ship about 10 days a month, helmsman Oh Yong-seok said.  
   Lee was not on the bridge when the ship began to list. “I gave instructions on the route, then briefly went to the bedroom when it happened,” he told reporters.  
   According to the court, Lee faces five charges, including negligence of duty and violation of maritime law, and the two other crew members each face three related charges.  
   Lee was required by law to be on the bridge helping his crew when the ferry passed through tough-to-navigate areas, said Yang, the senior prosecutor.  
   Yang said Lee also abandoned people in need of help and rescue, saying, “The captain escaped before the passengers.” Video aired by Yonhap news agency showed Lee among the first people to reach the shore by rescue boat.  
   Yang said the two crew members arrested failed to reduce speed near the islands and failed to carry out necessary measures to save lives.  

   It’s not clear why the two crew members made the sharp turn, Yang said.
   He said prosecutors would continue to look into whether something other than the turn could have made the ferry sink, but he added that there were no strong waves that could have knocked down the ferry at the time.  
   Prosecutors will have 10 days to decide whether to indict the captain and crew, but can request a 10-day extension from the court.  
   The Sewol had left the northwestern port of Incheon on Tuesday on an overnight journey to the holiday island of Jeju in the south with 323 students from Danwon High School in Ansan among its passengers.

   It capsized within hours of the crew making a distress call to the shore a little before 9 a.m. Wednesday.  
   A transcript of a ship-to-shore radio exchange shows that an official at the Jeju Vessel Traffic Services Center recommended evacuation just five minutes after the Sewol’s distress call. But helmsman Oh told the AP that it took 30 minutes for the captain to give the evacuation order as the boat listed.   
   With only 174 known survivors and the chances of survival increasingly slim, it is shaping up to be one of South Korea’s worst disasters, made all the more heartbreaking by the likely loss of so many young people, aged 16 or 17.
   The country’s last major ferry disaster was in 1993, when 292 people were killed.  

   The last bit of the ferry that had been above water — the dark blue keel — disappeared below the surface Friday night. Navy divers attached underwater air bags to the ferry to prevent it from sinking deeper, the Defense Ministry said.  
   Three vessels with cranes arrived at the accident site to prepare to salvage the ferry, but they will not hoist the ship before getting approval from family members of those still believed inside because the lifting could endanger any survivors, said a coast guard officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, citing department rules.  
   Coast guard official Ko Myung-seok said 176 ships and 28 planes were mobilized to search the area around the sunken ship Saturday, and that more than 650 divers were trying to search the interior of the ship. The coast guard also said a thin layer of oil was visible near the area where the ferry sank; about two dozen vessels were summoned to contain the spill.   -- AP

S Korea prosecutors seek ferry captain arrest

Death toll rises as details emerge that captain was not at the helm when ferry capsized.

Last updated: 18 Apr 2014 12:45
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Prosecutors in South Korea are requesting an arrest warrant for the captain of a ferry that sank two days ago.
The move to arrest the captain, Lee Joon-seok, on Friday, comes after it emerged that a junior officer was at the helm at the time of the sinking of the ferry on Wednesday that has claimed at least 28 lives and left 268 others missing.
"The captain was not in command when the accident took place," state prosecutor Park Jae-Eok told a press briefing on preliminary findings of the investigation into the disaster.
Of 475 passengers and crew on the Sewol ferry 179 people were listed as safe and 268 were still missing.
Rescue teams were finally able to get inside the ferry on Friday but were still unable to reach the area where it is hoped survivors may be in an air pocket.
In another development on Friday, the vice principal of the high school that students on board the sunken South Korean ferry attended, committed suicide by hanging, police said.

Police said they found 52-year-old Kang Min-gyu hanging from a tree outside the gymnasium housing many of the survivors.

"He was found dead by our police patrolling around," said Lee Seong-hoon, the chief of criminal investigation in Jindo.
How could he tell those young kids to stay there and jump from the sinking ship himself?
Ham Young-ho.
The vessel started to sink during a routine trip out of the major port of Incheon to the holiday island of Jeju, 480km to the south.
Coastguard officials have said the investigation was focused on possible crew negligence, problems with cargo stowage and structural defects of the vessel, although the ship appears to have passed all of its safety and insurance checks.
Relatives of those who died have accused the captain and some of his crew of being among the first to leave the vessel.
Both 69-year-old Lee and the company that owns the ship have apologised for the loss of life, although neither has admitted responsibility.
Most of those on board were children from a high school in the suburbs of Seoul who were on a field trip to Jeju.
Relatives were in mourning overnight in a hospital in the city of Mokpo, close to the port city of Jindo, which is acting as a rescue centre.

Some of them spoke bitterly of the captain.
"How could he tell those young kids to stay there and jump from the sinking ship himself?" said Ham Young-ho, grandfather of 17-year-old Lee Da-woon, one of the dead.
Lee has not made any public statement on whether or why he may have left the vessel before many of the passengers.






April 18 , 2014 - New Straits Times .....




S. Korea Ferry Incident: Transcript shows ferry captain delayed evacuation

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MOKPO, South Korea: A doomed ferry’s captain delayed evacuation for half an hour after a South Korean transportation official ordered preparations to abandon ship, raising more questions about whether quick action could have saved scores of passengers still missing today and feared dead, according to a transcript of the ship-to-shore exchange and interviews with a crewmember.


 The order by an unidentified official at the Jeju Vessel Traffic Services Centre to put on lifejackets and prepare for evacuation came just five minutes after a Wednesday morning distress call by the Sewol ferry as it tilted severely to the side.
The ferry, which was bound for Jeju island, replied that “it’s hard for people to move.”
The confirmed death toll from Wednesday’s sinking off southern South Korea was 26, most of bodies found floating in the ocean, the coast guard said.
But 48 hours after the sinking the number of deaths was expected to rise sharply with about 270 people missing, many of them high school students on a class trip. Officials said there were 179 survivors.
The captain hasn’t spoken publicly about his decision making, and officials aren’t talking about their investigation, which includes continued talks with the captain and crew.
But the new details about communication between the bridge and transportation officials follow a revelation by a crewmember in an interview with The Associated Press that the captain’s eventual evacuation order came at least half an hour after the distress signal.
Meanwhile, strong currents and rain made rescue attempts difficult again as they entered a third day. Divers worked in shifts to try to get into the sunken vessel, where most of the missing passengers are thought to be, said coast guard spokesman Kim Jae-in.
Coast guard officials said divers began pumping air into the ship today, but it wasn’t immediately clear if the air was for survivors or for a salvage operation.
Officials said in a statement that divers were still trying to enter the ship.
South Korean officials also offered a glimpse into their investigation of what may have led to the sinking.
They said the accident happened at a point where the ferry from Incheon to Jeju had to make a turn.
Prosecutor Park Jae-oek said in a briefing that investigators were looking at whether the third mate ordered a turn whose degree was so sharp that it caused the ship to list. Park said officials were looking at other possible causes, too.
Park also said crews’ testimonies differed about where the captain was when the ship started listing. The captain was “near” the bridge as the ship continued listing, though Park couldn’t say whether the captain was inside or right outside the bridge.
Angry and bewildered relatives gathered on a nearby island watched the rescue attempts. Some held a Buddhist prayer ritual, crying and praying for their relatives’ safe return.
“It’s heartbreaking if I think about how cold she must be inside the water,” said Lee Yong-soon, 62, the aunt of a missing student, Jeong Da-hye.
“I want to jump into the water with them,” said Park Geum-san, 59, the great-aunt of another missing student, Park Ye-ji. “My loved one is under the water and it’s raining. Anger is not enough.”
The water temperature in the area was about 12 degrees Celsius (54 degrees Fahrenheit), cold enough to cause signs of hypothermia after about 90 minutes of exposure.
Kim, the coast guard spokesman, said two vessels with cranes arrived and would help with the rescue and to salvage the ferry, which sank not far from the southern city of Mokpo and now sits with just part of its keel visible.
But salvage operations hadn’t started yet because of the rescue attempts. Salvaging the capsized ship could be risky because the vessel could get wedged deeper in the ocean’s floor, he said.
Out of 29 crewmembers, 20 people, including the captain, Lee Joon-seok, 68, survived, the coast guard said.
The captain made a brief, videotaped appearance, although his face was hidden by a gray hoodie. “I am really sorry and deeply ashamed,” Lee said. “I don’t know what to say.”
Kim Soo-hyun, a senior coast guard official, said officials were investigating whether the captain got on one of the first rescue boats.
The 146-meter (480-foot) Sewol had left Incheon on the northwestern coast of South Korea on Tuesday for the overnight journey to the southern resort island of Jeju.

There were 475 people aboard, including 325 students from Danwon High School in Ansan, which is near Seoul,
It was three hours from its destination Wednesday morning when it began to list for an unknown reason.
Oh Yong-seok, a helmsman on the ferry with 10 years of shipping experience, said that when the crew gathered on the bridge and sent a distress call, the ship was already listing more than 5 degrees, the critical angle at which a vessel can be brought back to even keel.
The first instructions from the captain were for passengers to put on life jackets and stay where they were, Oh said.
A third mate reported that the ship could not be righted, and the captain ordered another attempt, which also failed, Oh said.
A crew member then tried to reach a lifeboat but fell because the vessel was tilting, prompting the first mate to suggest to the captain that he order an evacuation, Oh said.
About 30 minutes after passengers were told to stay in place, the captain finally gave the order to evacuate, Oh said, adding that he wasn’t sure that in the confusion and chaos on the bridge if the order was relayed to the passengers.
Several survivors told the AP that they never heard any evacuation order.
By then, it was impossible for crew members to move to passengers’ rooms to help them because the ship was tilted at an impossibly acute angle, he said.
The delay in evacuation also likely prevented lifeboats from being deployed.
“We couldn’t even move one step. The slope was too big,” said Oh, who escaped with about a dozen others, including the captain.
Passenger Koo Bon-hee told the AP that many people were trapped inside by windows that were too hard to break. He wanted to escape earlier but didn’t because of the announcement to stay put.
The last major ferry disaster in South Korea was in 1993, when 292 people were killed. --AP


Lee Joon-Seok captain of the South Korean ferry "Sewol" which sank at sea off Jindo, is investigated at Mokpo police station in Mokpo. REUTERS Photo



S. Korea Ferry Incident: Divers pumping air into submerged ship

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MOKPO, South Korea: Coast guard officials say divers have begun pumping air into a submerged South Korean ship 48 hours after it listed and sank. But it wasn't immediately clear if the air was for survivors or for a salvage operation.

Strong currents and bad weather have so far prevented divers from searching for more than 270 people missing since the ferry listed and sank on Wednesday.
Officials said today in a statement that divers were still trying to enter the ship.  
There were fears that it may be too late. Officials say 25 have confirmed dead as of today.--AP

South Korean Coast Guard officers try to search missing passengers aboard the Sewol ferry in the water off the southern coast near Jindo, South Korea. AP Photo