10 dead, 8 missing after South Korea fishing boast capsizes

September 6, 2015
Coast guard members conduct a search and rescue operation near the capsized fishing boat Dolphin in waters near Chuja Island off the country's southern coast Sunday. The Jeju coast guard released this footage.  (Yonhap)

Coast guard members conduct a search and rescue operation near the capsized fishing boat Dolphin in waters near Chuja Island off the country’s southern coast Sunday. The Jeju coast guard released this footage. (Yonhap)

JEJU (Yonhap) — The death toll from a capsized fishing boat off the country’s south coast increased to 10 Sunday, as eight people remained unaccounted for, the Korea Coast Guard said.

The 9.77-ton boat called the Dolgorae, or Dolphin, was found about 6:25 a.m. Sunday near Chuja Island, north of the southern resort island of Jeju, the maritime security agency said. The boat lost contact with another chartered fishing boat around 7:38 p.m. Saturday, about half an hour after it left Chuja for Haenam, South Jeolla Province, it said.

Three people have been rescued and flown by helicopter to a hospital on Jeju.

“It has been determined that 21 people were on board the ill-fated boat, with three having been rescued, 10 found dead and eight missing,” Lee Pyung-hyun, chief of the Jeju coast guard, said during a press briefing.

The total number of people is down one from earlier estimates of 22, which was based on data provided by the boat’s passenger register. Lee said that four people who were originally listed as having been passengers were not on the boat, while three that were not registered did get on the vessel.

Originally, the fishing boat was chartered for two days and was scheduled to return to Chuja late Sunday.

The official said that Kim Cheol-soo, the 46-year-old captain of the boat, was among the dead.

Eight naval vessels, a Lynx helicopter and a P-3C maritime patrol aircraft have been dispatched to the site of the accident, according to a Navy official. In total, more than 50 naval and coast guard vessels have been mobilized in the search and rescue operations.

The Air Force has sent CN-235 transport planes and HH-47 helicopters to support the nighttime search operations.

“We are carrying out search operations in a large circle around Seomsaengi Island, where the survivors were found,” said another coast guard official, referring to an inhabited island south of Chuja.

He said that divers had been instructed to follow the local current to find those that remain missing. They have been dispatched to nearby aquafarms.

President Park Geun-hye has ordered Public Safety and Security Minister Park In-yong to “do everything possible for the search and rescue of the missing,” according to the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae. Park has been briefed on the accident since Saturday night, it said.

She also ordered the minister to provide exact information on the accident and the search operations to the families of those missing, relevant authorities as well as the general public.

The public safety ministry said a planned bilateral meeting on disaster management with China scheduled for this week has been postponed indefinitely so the minister can focus on the fishing boat sinking.

One of the survivors, surnamed Park, said the boat capsized “in an instant” due to rolling waves.

“I was sleeping when the boat’s engine went off and the captain told us to get out and water started to fill the boat,” the 38-year-old said at the hospital. “I was the last to come outside and as soon as I did, the boat capsized.”

Park and the other survivors climbed on top of the capsized boat and held on for more than 10 hours as they waited to be rescued.

Other passengers were initially with them, but they later disappeared from view after apparently falling off due to the strong waves, Park said.

The coast guard said it has started an investigation into the boat’s sinking. It said based on the testimony of survivors, the tragedy may have been caused by high waves or by the fishing vessel getting snarled in a rope of some kind.

“A survivor said the boat may have been snagged by a rope, so authorities are trying to determine the exact cause,” an official said. He said investigators will look at why the boarding registration was incorrect and why none of those on board wore life vests.

The ministry, meanwhile, said in a press release that despite some media reports about the fishing boat not having been checked by authorities in the last eight years, such a claim is not true.

“The boat was launched in 2005 and in the last 10 years it was checked six times,” it said. The ministry said the last check was conducted in June 2013, and that all registered fishing boats are required to submit papers confirming they have been checked by a local ship safety authority.

Related to the tragedy, observers said that there were critical lapses in the reporting process that delayed rescue operations.

“It was not until 8:40 p.m. before the captain of the fishing boat that accompanied the Dolgorae reported the situation to authorities, while it took another 23 minutes before the Chuja safety center radioed the coast guard about the missing boat.

Coast guard officials said that after being notified of the boat’s possible distress, the safety center could not get a fix on the boat and it wasted precious time trying to contact those on board by mobile phone. All such developments affected the time it took for rescuers to reach the stricken boat and the survivors.

Even after the coast guard was notified, it may have misjudged where the ship was, and sent ships and planes to the wrong area, observers said.