South Korean ferry tragedy deaths hit 113

A man on Jindo island prays for the dead and missing passengers of capsized ferry. Picture: Reuters
A man on Jindo island prays for the dead and missing passengers of capsized ferry. Picture: Reuters
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The confirmed death toll from the South Korean ferry that capsized last week has reached 113, as divers continue to recover bodies from the sunken hull.

Officials yesterday said that more than 190 passengers were still missing or presumed trapped inside the vessel.

Investigators continue to try to find out why the Sewol tipped over and sank within two hours a week ago.

Crew members have been criticised for allegedly failing to save passengers, including a large number of high school children from Ansan, near Seoul, who were on a trip.

Five of the crew have been charged with not fulfilling their duty to evacuate passengers safely, officials told South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.

At least six other crew members are now reported to have been detained and are being questioned about the tragedy.

Emergency task force spokesman Koh Myung-seok said more bodies had been found on the third and fourth floors of the ferry, where many passengers seemed to have gathered.

Many of the young students were housed in cabins on the fourth floor, near the stern of the ship, Mr Koh said.

One by one, coastguard officers yesterday carried the newly discovered bodies, covered in white sheets, from a boat to a tent on the dock of Jindo island. The bodies were driven away in ambulances to two tents: one for men and boys, the other for women and girls.

Some families with missing relatives are being invited to attempt to identify loved ones visually, while others are providing DNA samples to help identify bodies too badly injured to be seen.

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

Prosecutor Yang Jung-jin said a court yesterday issued arrest warrants for four other crew members whom authorities had detained a day earlier. Two additional crew members were detainedyesterday.

The crew members talked to reporters after a court hearing, their faces hidden with caps, hooded sweatshirts and masks.

One said they tried to correct the ferry’s listing early on but “various devices, such as the balance weight, didn’t work. So we reported the distress situation, according to the captain’s judgment, and tried to launch the lifeboats, but the ferry was too tilted and we couldn’t reach.”

The captain has said he waited to issue an evacuation order because the current was strong, the water was cold and passengers could have drifted away before help arrived.

But maritime experts said he could have ordered passengers to the deck – where they would have had a greater chance of survival – without telling them to abandon ship.

Senior prosecutor Ahn Sang-don said investigators are considering factors including wind, ocean currents, freight, modifications made to the ship and the fact that it turned just before it began listing. He said authorities would conduct a simulation and solicit experts’ opinions.

A Ministry of Ocean and Fisheries official had said that the vessel had taken a sharp turn.

Data transmitted by the Sewol’s automatic identification system, an on-board transponder used for tracking, show that the ship made a J-shaped turn.

The ministry official said data received by a central station was incomplete because the ship’s signal was weak, and that it missed more than three minutes of tracking.

Shareholders of the Sewol’s owner, Chonghaejin Marine Company, have apologised in a statement, saying that they feel “infinite sadness and responsibility”.

“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.

In Ansan, funerals were yesterday held for ten teenagers from the same school killed in the incident.