Published On: Thu, Apr 17th, 2014

S Korea Ferry: Desperate Search For Survivors Continues

Emergency services are continuing to search for nearly 300 people missing after a ferry carrying more than 470 people sank off South Korea.Officials say 179 people have been rescued. Most of the passengers were students from the same high school.

S Korea ferry Desperate search

Teams used lights to search overnight but strong currents have hampered divers’ efforts to enter the ship, where it is thought many were trapped.

At least nine people are confirmed to have died, with dozens more injured.

The vessel was travelling from Incheon port, in the north-west, to the southern resort island of Jeju.

It is not yet clear what caused the ship to list at a severe angle and flip over, leaving only a small part of its hull visible above water. The captain was being questioned, Yonhap news agency reported.

Yonhap said the nine dead include four 17-year-old students and a 25-year-old teacher as well as a 22-year-old female crew member. Identities of the other three were not immediately known.

The latest figures say 475 people were on board, with 287 still unaccounted for. Figures issued by the government have changed several times, prompting criticism.

Strong currents

Rescue efforts are concentrated on the ship, which sank in about 30m (100ft) of water.

“We carried out underwater searches five times from midnight until early in the morning, but strong currents and the murky water pose tremendous obstacles,” said Kang Byung-kyu, minister for security and public administration.

One senior emergency official was quoted as saying it was unlikely the remaining passengers would be found alive.

The US Navy has sent an amphibious assault ship, the USS Bonhomme Richard, to assist with the search.

Captain Joey Tynch told the BBC conditions were difficult.

“We found ourselves in challenging weather conditions today – very low cloud ceilings and reduced visibility and rain, and we’re working a search area around the site in close co-ordination with the South Korean on-scene commander,” he said.

Prime Minister Chung Hong-won said on Wednesday that there was not “a minute or a second to waste” in the search for survivors, urging those involved to do their utmost to save more lives.

He had water thrown at him as he visited angry relatives gathered at the port of Jindo, near to where the ferry capsized, early on Thursday.

‘Screaming and scrambling’

The ferry sent a distress call at around 09:00 local time (00:00 GMT) on Wednesday, about 20km (12 miles) off the island of Byungpoong. It sank within two hours, reports said.

At least 325 of the passengers on board the ship were students from Danwon high school in Ansan, near the capital, Seoul.

The students, aged 16 and 17, were heading on a field trip to Jeju island with about 15 teachers.

Aerial footage shows frantic efforts to rescue passengers as the ship sankSurvivors say they heard a loud thud, before the boat began to shake and tilt.Some of the passengers managed to jump into the ocean, wearing life jackets, and swim to nearby rescue boats and commercial vessels.

But several survivors have said that they were told by crew members not to move.

“We must have waited 30 to 40 minutes after the crew told us to stay put,” one unnamed rescued student was quoted as saying by AFP news agency.

“Then everything tilted over and everyone started screaming and scrambling to get out,” he said.

Koo Bon-hee, 36, told the Associated Press that the rescue was not “done well”.

“If people had jumped into the water… they could have been rescued. But we were told not to go out.”

South Korean President Park Geun-hye has expressed sadness over the incident, saying it was “truly tragic” that students on a field trip were involved in “such an unfortunate accident”.

Kim Young-boong, an official from the company which owns the ferry, has apologised.

The vessel – named Sewol – is reported to have a capacity of up to 900 people and is 146m (480ft) long.

Correspondents say this could turn out to be South Korea’s biggest maritime disaster for more than 20 years.