Friday 26 December 2014

Hundreds still missing in deadly Korea ferry accident

* Rescue efforts resume on Thursday morning
* About 290 people still missing, many of them teenagers
* Parents blame government, say not enough help and information

Narae Kim

Published 17/04/2014 | 06:26

A vessel involved in search and rescue operations passes near the upturned South Korean ferry "Sewol" in the sea off Jindo April 17, 2014. Rescuers were hammering on the upturned hull of a capsized South Korea ferry on Thursday hoping for a response from hundreds of people, mostly teenage schoolchildren, believed trapped after the vessel started sinking more than 24 hours previously. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon (SOUTH KOREA - Tags: DISASTER MARITIME TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
A vessel involved in search and rescue operations passes near the upturned South Korean ferry "Sewol" in the sea off Jindo April 17, 2014. Rescuers were hammering on the upturned hull of a capsized South Korea ferry on Thursday hoping for a response from hundreds of people, mostly teenage schoolchildren, believed trapped after the vessel started sinking more than 24 hours previously. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
A vessel involved in salvage operations passes near the upturned South Korean ferry "Sewol" in the sea off Jindo April 17, 2014. Rescuers were hammering on the upturned hull of a capsized South Korea ferry on Thursday hoping for a response from hundreds of people, mostly teenage schoolchildren, believed trapped after the vessel started sinking more than 24 hours previously. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
A man involved in search and rescue operations scans the area near the upturned South Korean ferry "Sewol" in the sea off Jindo April 17, 2014. Rescuers were hammering on the upturned hull of a capsized South Korea ferry on Thursday hoping for a response from hundreds of people, mostly teenage schoolchildren, believed trapped after the vessel started sinking more than 24 hours previously. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
A vessel involved in salvage operations passes near the upturned South Korean ferry "Sewol" in the sea off Jindo April 17, 2014. Rescuers were hammering on the upturned hull of a capsized South Korea ferry on Thursday hoping for a response from hundreds of people, mostly teenage schoolchildren, believed trapped after the vessel started sinking more than 24 hours previously. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
A vessel involved in search and rescue operations passes near the upturned South Korean ferry "Sewol" in the sea off Jindo April 17, 2014. Rescuers were hammering on the upturned hull of a capsized South Korea ferry on Thursday hoping for a response from hundreds of people, mostly teenage schoolchildren, believed trapped after the vessel started sinking more than 24 hours previously. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
A Coast Guard ship passes near the upturned South Korean ferry "Sewol" in the sea off Jindo April 16, 2014. Rescuers were hammering on the upturned hull of a capsized South Korea ferry on Thursday hoping for a response from hundreds of people, mostly teenage schoolchildren, believed trapped after the vessel started sinking more than 24 hours previously. Picture taken April 16, 2014. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
Maritime police search for missing passengers as flares illuminate the scene following the sinking of South Korean ferry "Sewol" in the sea off Jindo April 16, 2014. Rescuers were hammering on the upturned hull of a capsized South Korea ferry on Thursday hoping for a response from hundreds of people, mostly teenage schoolchildren, believed trapped after the vessel started sinking more than 24 hours previously. Picture taken April 16, 2014. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
Family members of missing passengers, who were on the South Korean ferry Sewol, wait for a rescue team's arrival at a port in Jindo April 16, 2014. Rescuers were hammering on the upturned hull of a capsized South Korea ferry on Thursday hoping for a response from hundreds of people, mostly teenage schoolchildren, believed trapped after the vessel started sinking more than 24 hours previously. Picture taken April 16, 2014. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
A woman prays for missing students who were on South Korea ferry "Sewol" which sank in the sea off Jindo, at a classroom of Danwon High School in Ansan April 17, 2014. South Korean coastguard and navy divers resumed searching on Thursday for about 290 people still missing, many of them students from the same high school, after the ferry capsized in sight of land. REUTERS/Yonhap
Members of South Korean Ship Salvage Unit (SSU) search for passengers who were on the South Korea ferry "Sewol" which sank in the sea off Jindo April 17, 2014. South Korean coastguard and navy divers resumed searching on Thursday for about 290 people still missing, many of them students from the same high school, after the ferry capsized in sight of land. REUTERS/Yonhap
South Korea's Prime Minister Jung Hong-won is shielded by bodyguards from attack by angry family members of missing passengers who were on South Korea ferry "Sewol" which sank in the sea off Jindo, at a gym in Jindo April 17, 2014. South Korean coastguard and navy divers resumed searching on Thursday for about 290 people still missing, many of them students from the same high school, after the ferry capsized in sight of land. REUTERS/Yonhap
A family member of a passenger who was on the South Korea ferry "Sewol" which sank in the sea off Jindo cries, in front of part of "Sewol" April 17, 2014. South Korean coastguard and navy divers resumed searching on Thursday for about 290 people still missing, many of them students from the same high school, after the ferry capsized in sight of land. REUTERS/Yonhap
Members of South Korean Ship Salvage Unit (SSU) search for passengers who were on the South Korea ferry "Sewol" which sank in the sea off Jindo April 17, 2014. South Korean coastguard and navy divers resumed searching on Thursday for about 290 people still missing, many of them students from the same high school, after the ferry capsized in sight of land. REUTERS/Yonhap
Family members of missing passengers who were on the South Korean ferry "Sewol", which sank at sea, wait for news of their family from a rescue team at a gym in Jindo April 17, 2014. South Korean coastguard and navy divers resumed searching on Thursday for about 290 people still missing, many of them students from the same high school, after the ferry capsized in sight of land. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
A family member of a missing passenger who was on South Korean ferry "Sewol", which sank at sea, prays as she waits for news from a rescue team at a gym in Jindo April 17, 2014. South Korean coastguard and navy divers resumed searching on Thursday for about 290 people still missing, many of them students from the same high school, after the ferry capsized in sight of land. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
A family member of a missing passenger who was on South Korean ferry "Sewol", which sank at sea, is wheeled into an ambulance after collapsing as she waits for news from a rescue team at a gym in Jindo April 17, 2014. South Korean coastguard and navy divers resumed searching on Thursday for about 290 people still missing, many of them students from the same high school, after the ferry capsized in sight of land. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
A family member of a missing passenger who was on the South Korean ferry "Sewol", which sank at sea, is wheeled into an ambulance after collapsing as she waits for news of their family from a rescue team at a gym in Jindo April 17, 2014. South Korean coastguard and navy divers resumed searching on Thursday for about 290 people still missing, many of them students from the same high school, after the ferry capsized in sight of land. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
A family member of a missing passenger who was on the South Korean ferry "Sewol" which sank at sea cries as she waits for news from a rescue team at a gym in Jindo April 17, 2014. South Korean coastguard and navy divers resumed searching on Thursday for about 290 people still missing, many of them students from the same high school, after the ferry capsized in sight of land off South Korea's southwest coast. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
Reverend John Jongdai Park, Chairman of the Board, Korean Churches for Community Development places candles at an altar during a prayer vigil for victims of the sunken South Korean ferry boat in Los Angeles, California April 16, 2014. South Korean coastguard and navy divers resumed searching on Thursday for about 290 people still missing, many of them students from the same high school, after the ferry capsized in sight of land off South Korea's southwest coast. REUTERS/Jonathan Alcorn
Part of South Korean passenger ship "Sewol" that has been sinking is seen as South Korean maritime policemen search for passengers in the sea off Jindo April 16, 2014. More than 100 people remained missing on Wednesday after a South Korean ferry with 477 people aboard capsized off the country's southwest coast, Yonhap news agency said. REUTERS/Hyung Min-woo/Yonhap
Part of South Korean passenger ship "Sewol" that has been sinking is seen as South Korean maritime policemen search for passengers in the sea off Jindo April 16, 2014. More than 100 people remained missing on Wednesday after a South Korean ferry with 477 people aboard capsized off the country's southwest coast, Yonhap news agency said. REUTERS/Hyung Min-woo/Yonhap
Part of South Korean passenger ship "Sewol" that has been sinking is seen as South Korean maritime policemen search for passengers in the sea off Jindo April 16, 2014. More than 100 people remained missing on Wednesday after a South Korean ferry with 477 people aboard capsized off the country's southwest coast, Yonhap news agency said. REUTERS/Hyung Min-woo/Yonhap
Part of South Korean passenger ship "Sewol" that has been sinking is seen as South Korean maritime policemen search for passengers in the sea off Jindo April 16, 2014. More than 100 people remained missing on Wednesday after a South Korean ferry with 477 people aboard capsized off the country's southwest coast, Yonhap news agency said. REUTERS/Hyung Min-woo/Yonhap

Rescuers were hammering on the upturned hull of a capsized South Korea ferry earlier today hoping for a response from hundreds of people, mostly teenage schoolchildren, believed trapped after the vessel started sinking more than 24 hours previously.

Coastguard and navy divers were diving into the waters at the site of the accident, about 20 km (12 miles) off the country's southwestern coast, searching for any sign of the 290 missing people. The vessel capsized on Wednesday during a short journey from the port of Incheon to the holiday island of Jeju.

Grieving parents accused officials of being slow to react and for lack of information.

"I am really angry with the government," said Kwak Hyun-ok, whose daughter who was one of 340 children and teachers from one school on the vessel.

"There is no meaning to life without my daughter," Kwak told Reuters.

Of the 475 passengers and crew on the vessel, nine were listed as dead and 179 had been rescued, according to the South Korean government.

The government said three cranes were being moved to the site of the accident and would arrive on Friday, although efforts were continuing to establish whether there were any survivors on the stricken vessel.

Media reports said submersibles were pumping oxygen into the hull, although the coastguard declined to comment.

There is still no official explanation for the sinking. The ship, built in Japan 20 years ago, was following a well travelled route. Although the wider area has rock hazards and shallow waters, they were not in the immediate vicinity of its usual path.

State broadcaster YTN quoted investigation officials as saying the ship was off its usual course and had been hit by a veering wind which caused containers stacked on deck to shift.

One parent, Park Yung-suk, told Reuters at the port of Jindo where the rescue efforts are centred that she had seen the body of her teenage daughter's teacher brought ashore earlier in the morning.

"If I could teach myself to dive, I would jump in the water and try to find my daughter," she said.

DESPERATE SEARCH FOR ANSWERS

The vessel was listing heavily to one side on Wednesday as passengers wearing life jackets scrambled into the sea and waiting rescue boats.

It sank in roughly two hours and witnesses and local media showed that just one life raft from the ship successfully inflated and launched.

Witnesses told Korean media that the captain of the vessel, who is now being held by police, was one of the first to leave the stricken vessel.

Chonghaejin Marine Co Ltd, based in Incheon, issued a brief statement via local media apologising for the accident but has made no further comment.

As frustration grew, some parents of missing school children hired their own boat on Wednesday night. They appeared to blame the government of President Park Geun-hye and rescue officials for not making a big enough effort.

"Since the government refused to take us to the scene, 11 parents chipped in 61,000 won ($58.79) each to hire a boat and took a reporter and a diver. But there was no rescue operation going on," said one father who declined to give his name.

According to a coastguard official in Jindo, the waters where the ferry capsized have some of the strongest tides off South Korea's coast, meaning divers were prevented from entering the mostly submerged ship for several hours.

The ship has a capacity of about 900 people and an overall length of 146 metres (480 feet). Shipping records show it was built in Japan in 1994.

Reuters

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