Published On: Wed, Apr 16th, 2014

South Korea Ferry Rescue Under Way

A major rescue operation is under way after a ferry carrying more than 470 people sank off South Korea.The ferry, carrying mainly school students, was travelling from the western port of Incheon to the southern resort island of Jeju.

South Korea ferry rescue

Two people had died and almost 180 more had been rescued, officials said. More than 100 people are unaccounted for.

A total of 34 naval, coastguard and civilian ships were involved in rescue efforts, as well as 18 helicopters.

Images showed the ferry listing at a severe angle and then later largely submerged, with only a small part of its hull visible.

Cause unclear

Balanced on the sinking hull, rescue teams pulled the teenagers from cabin windows.

Some of their classmates jumped into the sea as the ship went down.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye had ordered coast guard commandos to search the ship so that no-one was left behind, Yonhap news agency reported. Navy divers were also reportedly on scene.

“A total of 179 people had been officially rescued as of 12:00 (03:00GMT),” Yonhap news agency quoted Lee Jae-youl, a Ministry of Security and Public Administration official, as saying.

One body, of a female crew member, had been recovered from the ship, the coastguard said.

It is not yet clear what caused the incident, but witnesses described hearing an impact, before the ship listed and quickly sank.

One passenger told the YTN news channel: “We heard a big thumping sound and the boat stopped.

“The boat is tilting and we have to hold on to something to stay seated,” the passenger said.

Another passenger said the ship was “shaking and tilting”, with people tripping and bumping into each other.

News agencies said the ferry had sent out a distress signal about 20km (12 miles) off the island of Byungpoong at about 09:00 local time (00:00 GMT).

Angry parents have gathered at the school in Incheon to demand answers, reports the BBC’s Lucy Williamson in Seoul.

Earlier reports put the number of passengers on the ferry at about 350. The vessel is reported to have a capacity of up to 900 people.