Thursday, Oct 23, 2014

South Korea ferry disaster: Death count crosses 100

A relative of a passenger aboard the sunken Sewol ferry wipes his tears as he awaits news on his missing loved one at a port in Jindo. (AP)
Associated Press | Jindo | Posted: April 22, 2014 3:32 pm | Updated: April 22, 2014 3:49 pm

Prosecutors detained six other crew members — four on Monday and two on Tuesday — but have yet to obtain arrest warrants for them.

Bodies are being identified visually, but family members have been providing DNA samples in case decomposition makes that impossible.

In Ansan, funerals were held for more than 10 of the teens Tuesday, and education officials were building a temporary memorial that they expected to complete by Wednesday.

At the city education office, parents issued a letter pleading for more government help in the rescue, and condemning its response so far. The letter also criticized media for reporting false rumors, and for doggedly pursuing interviews with surviving children.

“The children say that when they look at the window, sudden fear of water seizes them. What the children need is utmost stability,” said Jang Dong-won, father of a rescued female student.

The families, and South Koreans more broadly, have at times responded with fury. The captain initially told passengers to stay in their rooms and waited more than half an hour to issue an evacuation order as the Sewol sank. By then, the ship had tilted so much it is believed that many passengers were trapped inside.

At a Cabinet briefing Monday, President Park Geun-hye said, “What the captain and part of the crew did is unfathomable from the viewpoint of common sense. Unforgivable, murderous behavior.” The comments were posted online by the presidential Blue House.

Lee, 68, has said he waited to issue an evacuation order because the current was strong, the water was cold and passengers could have drifted away before help arrived. But maritime experts said he could have ordered passengers to the deck — where they would have had a greater chance of survival — without telling them to abandon ship.

A transcript of ship-to-shore communications released Sunday revealed a ship that was crippled with indecision. A crew member asked repeatedly whether passengers would be rescued after abandoning ship even as the ferry tilted so sharply that it became impossible to escape.

Emergency task force spokesman Koh Myung-seok said bodies have mostly been found on the third and fourth floor of the ferries, where many passengers seemed to have gathered. Many students were also housed in cabins on the fourth floor, near the stern of the ship, Koh said.

The cause of the disaster is not yet known, and only became murkier Tuesday, when a South Korean official said the ferry had taken a less severe turn shortly before the sinking than had been initially reported.

Data transmitted by the Sewol’s automatic identification system, an on-board transponder used for tracking, shows that the ship made a J-shaped turn before listing heavily and ultimately sinking.

A ministry of ocean and fisheries official had said Friday that the vessel had taken a sharp turn. But on Tuesday a ministry official speaking on condition of anonymity saying he wasn’t authorized to speak to media, said the AIS data received by a central station was incomplete because the ship’s signal was weak.

More complete data, retrieved from a base station in Mokpo, continued…

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