20 Apr 2014

Families’ frustration at South Korean ferry recovery process

Divers have managed to get inside the hull of the sunken South Korean ferry for the first time to recover the bodies of those who died, it is reported.

The confirmed death toll rose to 56, with 246 still missing overnight. The authorities say they want to hold the three crew members arrested on charges of negligence for a further 10 days in order to determine the cause of the accident.

Clashes between the increasingly anguished relatives of the missing and the police were reported overnight. Many of them are huddled in a gym in Jindo. The city is the centre of what is officially a rescue operation, but that has begun to resemble a recovery mission as experts play down the chances of finding anyone alive.

And, for some, it is not progressing quickly enough. “Bring me the body,” weeping mother Bae Sun-ok said as she was comforted by two policemen.

According to Reuters, around 100 others tried to push across the bridge that connects Jindo island – off the south of the Korean peninsula – to the mainland to take their protest at the way the operation is being handled to the capital, Seoul. But police formed two lines to prevent them reaching the bridge.

It will be a miracle if they are alive. I just want to hug my child’s body father of passenger

In the gym, Kim Ha-na has trouble eating and sleeping and says she is haunted by the voice of her 17-year-old brother, calling frantically to tell her the ferry he was aboard with more than 300 classmates and staff from his high school on the outskirts of Seoul was sinking.

Families' frustration at South Korean ferry recovery process

She, along with around 500 others, sits in the hall 24 hours-a-day waiting for news. Kim’s brother, Dong-hyup, was one of 339 pupils and teachers from Danwon High School on an annual outing to the subtropical island of Jeju, making up most of the 476 passengers and crew. “He called me at 8am, saying the ship is sinking. Then I lost him,” Kim, a 22-year-old student, told Reuters.

The gym has a microphone that is now used mainly to voice frustration at the length of time it is taking to find the hundreds presumed trapped inside the ship’s submerged hull. “It will be a miracle if they are alive. I just want to hug my child’s body,” a father said from the stage to applause from other waiting relatives.

A clearer picture started to emerge of the time around the capsize with the release by coastguards of a conversation between vessel controllers and the ship, Reuters reported. Witnesses have said the Sewol turned sharply before it began listing. It is still not clear why the vessel turned.

‘Additional negligence’

It took more than two hours for it to capsize completely but passengers were ordered to stay put in their cabins, an order the captain has taken responsibility for.

According to the transcript, at 9.25 a.m. the controllers told the 69-year-old Captain Lee Joon-seok to “decide how best to evacuate the passengers” and that he should “make the final decision on whether or not to evacuate”.

The captain, who was not on the bridge when the ship turned, said he feared sending passengers into the cold waters, where the strong currents would likely sweep them away.

Prosecutor Yang Joong-jin told a news conference in Mokpo, one of the centres for the investigation, that some of the crew said they had not received any safety training.

“We are trying to find out if there is additional negligence,” Prosecutor Yang Joong-jin told a news conference in Mokpo, one of the centres for the investigation, speaking of the captain and crew.