Bad weather stymies search for missing in sunken ferry

April 28, 2014

Only one body retrieved over the weekend

A relative of a passenger aboard the sunken Sewol ferry looks toward the sea as he awaits news on his missing loved one at a port in Jindo, South Korea, Sunday, April 27, 2014.  (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

A relative of a passenger aboard the sunken Sewol ferry looks toward the sea as he awaits news on his missing loved one at a port in Jindo, South Korea, Sunday, April 27, 2014. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

JINDO, South Korea, April 28 (Yonhap) — Strong winds, high waves and rain effectively halted search operations Monday for more than 100 passengers still missing from a deadly ferry disaster two weeks ago.

Only one body was retrieved in the on-and-off search operations over the weekend, and adverse weather conditions thwarted overnight attempts to resume search efforts, leaving the death toll unchanged at 188 and the number of the missing at 114.

Of the 476 passengers aboard the 6,825-ton ship Sewol that capsized in waters off South Korea’s southwestern island of Jindo on April 16, 174 people, including most of the crew members, were rescued on the day of the accident, but no one has been found alive since.

With rain falling on the shipwreck site, Coast Guard, Navy and civilian divers were unable to restart their search efforts on Monday due to high waves of up to 2 meters, strong winds of up to 13 meters per second and strong underwater currents.

A high sea watch posted for the shipwreck area since late Sunday was lifted earlier in the day, but strong currents even prompted small fishing boats participating in the rescue operations to evacuate.

“Some 92 divers are ready to resume the job, but operations underwater are not possible as of now,” a Coast Guard officer said.

“The tide is forecast to be calm for about two hours later in the day. During that time, the workers will focus on searching the fourth floor of the five-story vessel.”

So far, the divers have searched 35 out of the 111 compartments on the sunken ship, but loads inside the rooms hampered their attempt to get inside, according to the authorities.

In a desperate attempt to enter the compartments, rescue workers are planning to employ small explosives, along with wire cutters, to open the door with the consent of families of the missing passengers, he added.

The Coast Guard, meanwhile, unveiled Monday a video clip showing the Sewol’s captain, along with seven other crew members, escaping from the sinking boat, leaving hundreds of passengers behind.

According to the 10-minute cell phone video by a Coast Guard officer, captain Lee Jun-seok and the seamen hurriedly got off the listed ship and on a rescue boat that arrived at the scene for the first time at around 9:35 a.m., some 40 minutes after the Sewol sent a distress call.

They gathered together in a steering room and were the first to be saved from the ill-fated ferry, while none of them made an attempt to operate lifeboats attached to the ship. None of those rescued wore their uniform in violation of maritime law, with Lee wearing only his underwear, the video showed.

Few passengers were on the deck of the sinking ferry at that time. Investigators and survivors said the announcement from the vessel urged the people to stay put inside, depriving them of their chance to be rescued.

All 15 crewmen in charge of driving the ship survived the disaster. Of the other 14 crew members, including part-time workers and foreign singers, only five were rescued.

 

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