26 Confirmed Dead in S. Korean Ferry Sinking

26 Confirmed Dead in S. Korean Ferry Sinking

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A total of 26 people, including 12 students, two teachers and three crew members, have been confirmed dead, with 179 people rescued and 271 still missing after a South Korean ferry capsized, media reports said.

As of 10:30 a.m., 25 people, including 12 students, were confirmed dead, with 179 people rescued and 271 still missing, an official at the West Sea Coast Guardthe Coast Guard told a press briefing, Xinhua reported.

One more death was reported after the press briefing, sending the total death toll to 26 at noon.

The passengers aboard the sunken vessel included 325 high school students and 15 teachers who had been on the way for a four- day field trip. The ship departed from South Korea’s western port city of Incheon Tuesday night for the southern resort island of Jeju.

Maritime police and military divers tried 20 times overnight to make their way into the submerged hull, but failed to enter into the body due to rapid currents, low underwater visibility and high waves, the official said.

Among the rescued, 75 were students from the Danwon High School in Ansan, a Seoul suburb. Almost 70 percent of those aboard were from the high school.

Three large salvage ships arrived at the scene Friday morning to pull the sunken ship out of the waters. A total of 535 coast guard and navy divers were working at the scene, and 31 airplanes and 173 rescue ships were sent for search operations.

The death toll was expected to rise as hundreds of passengers were still missing nearly two days after the 6,825-ton passenger ship, the Sewol, capsized and sank off Jindo Island, near the southwestern tip of the Korean Peninsula, at around 11:30 a.m. Wednesday. Most of the missing were believed to be trapped inside the sunken vessel.

Two Chinese citizens have been confirmed to be aboard the sunken ferry, one male and the other female, who had been on their way to Jeju Island for vacation. The missing couple were migrant workers working in South Korea for years.

The Coast Guard received the first distress call from an estimated student passenger of the ship at about 8:52 a.m. Wednesday, and the ship had remained afloat in the waters for about two and a half hours with its body tilting.

Prosecutors told a press briefing Friday morning that a third mate took the helm of the sunken ferry at the last minutes, noting testimonies on where the captain was when the ship was sinking have not been the same.

The police and prosecutors have been questioning rescued captain and crew members to figure out why the ship sank. The 69- year-old captain came back to the steering room after the ship began tilting, prosecutors said.

The ferry’s sinking was believed to have been caused by a sudden turn in direction, which was executed at around 8:48 a.m. Wednesday according to the automatic identification system data offered by the South Korean Oceans and Fisheries Ministry.

The change in direction was believed to have moved some 180 cars and trucks and over 1,100 tons of shipping containers on the deck of the ship to one side, driving the ship to lean to the port side gradually.

The Sewol reportedly tilted first, rolled over on the port side and capsized before being totally submerged in the waters at around 11:30 a.m. Wednesday. It took around two and a half hours until the ship sank.

It was originally believed that the passenger ship might have run aground as some rescued passengers said they heard a thumping sound on the bow before the ship sinks.

The banging sound was estimated to be a noise made when the vehicles and containers were out of their place and crashed each other.

At the first stage, the ferry was believed to have veered off course as it departed some two and a half hours later than scheduled due to a heavy fog, but the oceans ministry said the ship was not far off its intended route.

Other rescued passengers said an announcement was made through the loudspeakers in the vessel warning them not to move as it would be dangerous. It was said to have raised the death toll as many passengers failed to escape from the vessel timely.

The ferry’s regular captain who had been on leave was replaced by the substitute surnamed Lee, who the ship’s operator Chonghaejin Marine claimed is a veteran with eight years of experience on the Incheon-Jeju Island route.

This is the second accident involving a Chonghaejin Marine vessel in three weeks. Another Chonghaejin ferry hit a 7.93-ton fishing boat on March 28 en route from Incheon to Baengnyeong Island in the West Sea. The 396-ton ship was carrying about 140 passengers and no injuries were reported in the accident.

Source: FARS