South Korean ferry captain questioned
The captain of a ferry that sunk of South Korea's coast is being questioned by authorities as hopes fade for any remaining survivors.PT0M0S 620 349
Jindo Port, South Korea: The parents stood vigil on the jetty, wrapped in disposable cagoules, clutching at what hope they could find as the wind and rain swirled around them. Nineteen kilometres away, more than 287 people were underwater, almost certainly dead, trapped inside the Sewol, the 6350-tonne Korean ferry which had been carrying them to the holiday island of Jeju when it sank on Wednesday morning.
The 69-year-old captain, Lee Joon-seok, was facing uncomfortable questions at the investigation headquarters in Mokpo, on the southwestern tip of the Korean Peninsula, on Thursday about why he had been among the first to evacuate the sinking ship, leaving his post while high school students were drowning below.
On the second day of the rescue mission, visibility underwater was less than a foot and vicious seas left navy divers unable even to enter the submerged hull of the ship, the coastguard said. All efforts were abandoned in the early afternoon.
A relative of a missing ferry passenger at Jindo. Photo: Reuters
''There are 160 divers from the special forces but the current is so strong that they are being swept away when they enter the water,'' said Kim Dohyun, a 52-year-old veteran of the Korean Special Forces, who was acting as a liaison with the parents. ''Right now, the teams are tapping on the outside of the ship with hammers to listen for any survivors inside. When they can go in, only two divers at a time can fit because the corridors are so narrow.''
Officials, who asked not to be named, said the chance of finding any passengers alive were ''close to zero''.
Almost 500 people, hundreds of them high school students, were aboard the ferry. As the tragedy grew dire on Wednesday, some aboard the vessel sent farewell messages to friends and loved ones. South Korean news outlets released some of the conversations, and some have been translated to English.
Rescue team members next to the capsized ferry. Photo: AP
America's ABC News, citing Korean TV, reported this one: ''Dad, don't worry. I've got a life vest on and we're huddled together,'' a student identified as Shin, 18, texted her father.
Dad's reply: ''I know the rescue is underway but make your way out if you can.''
''Dad, I can't walk out,'' she replied. ''The corridor is full of kids, and it's too tilted.''
Relatives wait for news of missing passengers of the sunken ferry at a Jindo gymnasium. Photo: Getty Images
Shin was among those still missing.
Some parents were able to stay in touch with their kids on the phone until mobile contact was lost. Many were holding on to the hope that their children remained alive and lashed out at what they said was official inertia and a government cover-up.
''We have received at least 20 text messages from children on the boat who are still alive,'' said one 42-year-old mother on the jetty, who gave her name as Mrs Jung. Mobile phone signals were weak at the time of the sinking, apparently preventing spoken communication in most instances.
A relative of a passenger aboard the sunken ferry. Photo: AP
One message, circulating around the parents, was allegedly a list of survivors organised by their class number sent from inside the ship.
''The government is blocking the news from getting out and there is no rescue mission for them,'' Mrs Jung cried.
However, all of the messages shown by parents to the newspaper were second or third-hand, passed from phone to phone, and it was not possible to date them or to find anyone who had made direct contact.
Danwon High School students hold papers with messages such as "miss you", "love you" and "don't lose your hope" for their friends who are missing. Photo: AP
As their anger grew, some parents tried to attack coastguard officials on the jetty and had to be held back by the crowd.
''Children are dying! They sent messages! What do you mean bad weather has stopped you!'' screamed one father.
In a nearby sports hall where hundreds more relatives are camping, South Korea's president was abused when she arrived for a visit. ''The government will do a thorough investigation and prosecute whoever is responsible,'' said President Park Geun-hye, but the crowd cried ''liar'' and ''how dare you come?''
Rescue at sea: South Korean passenger ship in distress
More than 100 people remain missing after South Korean ferry "Sewol" capsized with 477 people aboard, off the country's southwest coast. Despite frantic rescue efforts involving coastguard vessels, fishing boats and helicopters, this could be the country's biggest maritime disaster in over 20 years. Photo: Reuters
Mr Kim, the special forces liaison, said the chances of finding further survivors were slim. ''There is an air pocket in the front of the boat. If anyone made it there, they may have survived. But for anyone in the rest of the boat, the hopes are low.''
Officials' thoughts are now turning to raising the ship to recover bodies.
Mr Kim said the ship had been ''outside its authorised route'' and may have struck a rock, opening a gash in the prow. But Captain Lee insisted it had not hit a rock. Surrounded by cameras, he pulled a hood over his head and said he could not face ''the passengers, victims and families''.
Unnamed investigators told The New York Times that the vessel had turned sharply left before it began to tilt and the captain may have been trying to steer back on course. One suggested that the load of 180 vehicles and about 1000 tonnes of cargo in shipping containers may not have been properly secured and could have shifted when the ship turned, causing it to ''tilt out of control''.
In their initial panic, the crew failed to send a distress signal, and told passengers to remain in their cabins for more than an hour. As the water rose inside the ship, the victims may then have been unable to open their doors to escape.
''My daughter Yoonhwee sent me a message before the boat left, saying she did not want to go on the trip,'' said Mr Jin. ''I sent her one back saying not to worry and to have a good time with her friends. When the boat started to sink she called me but I was driving and I missed it. I have not slept, or washed or done anything since.''
Telegraph, London, USA Today