Monday 22 January 2018

‘Mothers sat staring out to sea sobbing’

A family member of a missing passenger who was on the South Korean ferry 'Sewol' which sank in the sea off Jindo cries as she waits for a rescue team's arrival at a port in Jindo. Reuters
A family member of a missing passenger who was on the South Korean ferry 'Sewol' which sank in the sea off Jindo cries as she waits for a rescue team's arrival at a port in Jindo. Reuters
A relative cries as she waits for missing passengers at a port in Jindo, South Korea. A ferry carrying 459 people, mostly high school students on an overnight trip to a tourist island, sank off South Korea's southern coast on Wednesday, leaving nearly 300 people missing despite a frantic, hours-long rescue by dozens of ships and helicopters. AP
A maritime police helicopter rescues passengers who were onboard South Korean ferry 'Sewol' which capsized off Jindo. Almost 300 people were missing after a ferry capsized off South Korea on Wednesday, despite frantic rescue efforts involving coastguard vessels, fishing boats and helicopters, in what could be the country's biggest maritime disaster in over 20 years. Reuters
Rescue helicopters fly over a sinking South Korean passenger ferry that was carrying more than 450 passengers, mostly high school students off South Korea's southern coast. AP
Part of the capsized South Korean ferry 'Sewol' (C) is seen in the sea off Jindo. Reuters
Maritime officers (in black) try to rescue passengers (in orange coloured life vests) onboard South Korean ferry 'Sewol' which capsized off Jindo. Reuters
A partially sunken ferry is seen off South Korea's southwest coast in this still image from a video released by the South Korean coast guard. Reuters

Narae Kim Jindo, South Korea

FOR the parents of the many teenagers still missing after the Sewol ferry capsized off the coast of South Korea, the wait for news – good or bad – is almost unbearable.

“My tears have dried up,” said a mother in Jindo, a town near the site of the disaster where many families have gathered.”

I am holding on to hope. I hope the government does everything to bring these kids back to their mothers.”

At the dockside in Jindo, women sat and stared out at the black, calm sea before them, quietly sobbing.

But a sense of foreboding is unavoidable among those involved in searching the waters off the southwest coast, and relatives of the missing waver between hope, despair and anger at what appears to be authorities' botched handling of the incident.

The father of one missing child could not bear to wait. He said he and 10 other parents paid 61,000 won (€43) each to hire a boat to take them to the scene, along with a local reporter and a diver.

“There was no rescue operation going on,” he said on his return to Jindo.

Survivor Koo Bonhee described how he could see the exit. For half an hour, as the doomed ferry filled with water and listed severely on its side, the crew told passengers to wait for rescuers.

With their breathing room disappearing, the 36-year-old businessman and some of the other passengers floated to an exit and swam to a nearby fishing boat.

But 290 of the 475 people aboard – many of them high school students on a class trip – were still missing after the ferry sank yesterday off the southern coast of South Korea.

Six were confirmed dead and 55 were injured.

It was still unknown why the ferry sank, and the coast guard was interviewing the captain and crew.

The Sewol, a 480-foot vessel can hold more than 900. At about 9 am yesterday, when it was three hours from Jeju, it sent a distress signal.

Passenger Kim Seong-mok said that after having breakfast, he felt the ferry tilt and then heard it crash into something.

He said an announcement told passengers to not move from their places and that he never heard another about evacuating.

He said he was certain that many people were trapped inside the ferry as water rushed in.

Koo also complained about the crew's efforts during the initial stages of the disaster, saying early misjudgments may account for the large number of missing.

In addition to the order not to evacuate immediately, Koo said many people were trapped inside by windows that were too hard to break. (Reuters)

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