Divers on Sunday recovered 10 more bodies from the submerged South Korean ferry that capsized four days ago with hundreds of children on board, the coastguard said.
“Another 10 bodies have just been retrieved. Now the death toll stands at 46,” a coastguard spokesman told AFP.
According to the Associated Press, with only 174 known survivors and the chances of survival increasingly slim, it is shaping up to be one of South Korea’s worst disasters, made all the more heartbreaking by the likely loss of so many young people, aged 16 or 17. The country’s last major ferry disaster was in 1993, when 292 people were killed.
“I am sorry to the people of South Korea for causing a disturbance and I bow my head in apology to the families of the victims,” Lee, the ferry’s captain, told reporters on Saturday morning as he left the Mokpo Branch of Gwangju District Court to be jailed. But he defended his much-criticized decision to wait about 30 minutes before ordering an evacuation.
“At the time, the current was very strong, the temperature of the ocean water was cold, and I thought that if people left the ferry without (proper) judgment, if they were not wearing a life jacket, and even if they were, they would drift away and face many other difficulties,” Lee said. “The rescue boats had not arrived yet, nor were there any civilian fishing ships or other boats nearby at that time.”
Senior prosecutor Yang Jung-jin told reporters that the third mate was steering the ship Wednesday morning as it passed through an area with lots of islands clustered close together and fast currents. Investigators said the accident came at a point where the ship had to make a turn, and prosecutor Park Jae-eok said investigators were looking at whether the third mate ordered a turn so sharp that it caused the vessel to list.
Yang said the third mate has six months of experience, and hadn’t steered in the area before because another mate usually handles those duties. She took the wheel this time because heavy fog caused a departure delay, Yang said, adding that investigators do not know whether the ship was going faster than usual.
Helmsman Park Kyung-nam identified the third mate as Park Han-kyul. The helmsman who was arrested, 55-year-old Cho Joon-ki, spoke to reporters outside court and accepted some responsibility.
“There was a mistake on my part as well, but the steering had been turned much more than usual,” Cho said.
Lee has four decades of experience at sea. He had been captaining ferries for 10 years by the time he was interviewed by the Jeju Today website in 2004, and said he had sailed on ocean freighters for 20 years before that.
A transcript of a ship-to-shore radio exchange shows that an official at the Jeju Vessel Traffic Services Center recommended evacuation just five minutes after the Sewol’s distress call, but helmsman Oh said that it took 30 minutes for the captain to give the evacuation order as the boat listed.
Divers have removed the first bodies from the South Korean ferry that capsized nearly four days ago with 476 people on board, the coastguard said Sunday. “Divers broke through the window of a passenger cabin just before midnight and pulled out three bodies,” a coastguard official was reported as saying.
All three were wearing lifejackets, the official said, adding that two were male but the gender of the third was not immediately confirmed, AFP reports.
The official said they were the same three bodies that had been spotted, but not retrieved, during an earlier dive.
Rescue teams planned to continue dive missions through the night to the ferry which capsized on Wednesday morning, he said.
The confirmed death toll from the disaster now stands at 36 with 266 people still unaccounted for.