Sunday, April 20, 2014

South Korea: Update--Confirmed Dead Rises to 58 and Rising, Potential Loss of Life Could Reach 244

According to Reuters, South Korean prosecutors investigating last week's ferry disaster said on Sunday (April 20) they wanted to extend the detention of the captain and two other crew as they attempt to determine the cause of an accident that potentially claimed more than 244 lives.

The Sewol ferry was on a routine 400-km (300-mile) voyage from Incheon to the southern holiday island of Jeju in calm weather on Wednesday (April 16) carrying 476 passengers and crew, among them 339 children and teachers on a high school outing.

Divers gained access to the hull of the Sewol for the first time overnight. The number of those confirmed dead rose steadily throughout Sunday by 25 to 58 dead with 244 still listed as missing.

COMMENT: It took more than two hours for it to capsize completely, yet passengers were ordered to stand-fast in their cabins, which may have contributed to the high loss of life.

According to the voice transcripts, at 0925 hours on Wednesday the crew told the 69-year-old Captain Lee Joon-seok to "decide how best to evacuate the passengers" and that he should "make the final decision on whether or not to evacuate."

Lee was not on the bridge when the ship engaged in a sharp turn, which as yet cannot be explained.  Navigation was in the hands of a 26-year-old third mate who was in charge for the first time.

The transcript has revealed that the crew was worried that there were not enough rescue boats aboard the vessel to accommodate all the passengers. Witnesses said the captain and some crew members took to rescue boats before the passengers.

Lee has not explained why he left the vessel.

Prosecutor Yang Joong-jin told a news conference in Mokpo, one of the centers for the investigation, that some of the crew said they had not received any safety training.

Lee and two crew members were arrested on April 19.

President Park Geun-hye was booed by some of the relatives when she visited the gym on Thursday (April 17).

The sinking looks set to be the country's worst maritime disaster in 21 years in terms of loss of life.