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Divers pull bodies from sunken ferry; toll tops 50

MOKPO, South Korea (AP) -- The confirmed death toll from South Korea's ferry disaster rose past 50 on Sunday as divers finally found a way inside the sunken vessel, quickly discovering more than a dozen bodies in what almost certainly is just the beginning of a massive and grim recovery effort.

About 250 people are still missing from the ship, the vast majority of them high school students who had been on a holiday trip. Anguished families, waiting on a nearby island and fearful they might be left without even their loved ones' bodies, have vented their fury, blocking the prime minister's car during a visit and attempting a long protest march to the presidential Blue House.

The ferry Sewol sank Wednesday off South Korea's southern coast, but it took days for divers to get in because of strong currents and bad visibility due to foul weather. Beginning late Saturday, when divers broke a window, and continuing into Sunday, multiple teams of divers have found various routes into the ferry, discovering bodies in different spots, coast guard official Koh Myung-seok said at a briefing. Thirteen bodies have been found in the ship, while six other bodies were found floating outside Sunday, bringing the official death toll to 52, the coast guard said.

Divers, who once pumped air into the ship in the slim hope that survivors were inside, have yet to find anyone alive there.

A 21-year-old South Korean sailor, surnamed Cho, also died from injuries he sustained Wednesday while working on a warship going to help rescue passengers in the ferry, said Cmdr. Yim Myung-soo of the South Korean navy.

The penetration by divers into the ferry follows the arrest of the captain Saturday on suspicion of negligence and abandoning people in need. Two crew members also were taken into custody, including a rookie third mate who a prosecutor said was steering in challenging waters unfamiliar to her when the accident occurred.

The Sewol sank during a trip from port of Incheon to the southern holiday island of Jeju with 476 people on board, including 323 students from Danwon High School in Ansan. The 16- and 17-year-old students make up only 75 of the 174 survivors, and about 225 of the missing. At least 23 of those confirmed dead are students, according to coast guard spokesman Kim Jae-in.

On Jindo island near the submerged ferry, about 200 police in neon jackets blocked about 100 relatives of missing passengers who'd been walking on a main road in an effort, they said, to travel to the presidential Blue House in Seoul to voice their complaints to the president. The relatives have been staying at gymnasium on the island, waiting for word of their loved ones.

"The government is the killer," they shouted as they pushed against a police barricade.

"We want an answer from the person in charge about why orders are not going through and nothing is being done," said Lee Woon-geun, father of missing passenger Lee Jung-in, 17. "They are clearly lying and kicking the responsibility to others."

South Korea Ferry Death Toll Rises To 58

Earlier Sunday morning, relatives of the missing blocked the car of Prime Minister Chung Hong-won and demanded a meeting with President Park Geun-hye, as Chung made a visit to Jindo. Chung later returned to the gymnasium, but met only with a number of representatives of the family members in a side office.

Relatives are desperate to retrieve bodies before they decompose beyond recognition, Lee said.

"After four or five days the body starts to decay. When it's decayed, if you try to hold a hand it might fall off," he said. "I miss my son. I'm really afraid I might not get to find his body."

The cause of the sinking remains under investigation, but prosecutors say the ship made a sharp turn just before it began to list. The captain, Lee Joon-seok, initially told passengers to stay in their rooms and took at least half an hour to issue an evacuation order. By that time, the ship was listing at too steep an angle for many people to escape the tight hallways and stairs inside.

Lee faces five charges, including negligence of duty and violation of maritime law, and the two arrested crew members each face three related charges.

Senior prosecutor Yang Jung-jin said Lee violated the law because he was not on the bridge helping his crew when the ferry passed through the tough-to-navigate area where it sank. He also said Lee abandoned people in need of help and rescue; video shows Lee among the first people to reach the shore by rescue boat.

Yang said the two crew members arrested failed to reduce speed near the islands and failed to carry out necessary measures to save lives. Prosecutors will have 10 days to decide whether to indict the captain and crew, but can request a 10-day extension from the court.

Three vessels with cranes arrived at the accident site to prepare to salvage the ferry, but they will not hoist the ship before getting approval from family members of those still believed inside because the lifting could endanger any survivors, said a coast guard officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, citing department rules.


Klug reported from Seoul. Associated Press writers Youkyung Lee and Jung-yoon Choi in Seoul and Gillian Wong in Jindo, South Korea, contributed to this report.

Join the discussion

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mpusairsret April 20 2014 at 2:38 PM

They say that the capsizing was caused by shifting cargo. Has any action been considered against the load master who was responsible for securing the cargo. Also this was an older ferry with know safety concerns. Were the needed modification s made before placing it in service or was the company trying to save a buck. The Korean straaits are much to dangerous to navigate in an unstable vessel.

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3 replies
Ghetto Cat April 20 2014 at 10:26 AM

Just more resentment of the sympathetic that probably do not care much for living kind. That is pretty much the FAA saying, that hundreds will die before they look in to anything. Take life serious.

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Joyanne April 20 2014 at 10:17 AM

My prayers are with everyone.

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r1234598760 April 20 2014 at 10:09 AM

Why was the Captain one of the first ashore in a rescue boat ???

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2 replies
dewlady357 r1234598760 April 20 2014 at 10:50 AM

Because he is a blatant coward..there is no other answer.

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Nancy r1234598760 April 20 2014 at 11:20 AM

because he was afraid and didn't want to die and getting off the ferry was the first thing he thought to do instead of helping his passengers which was his job and duty and the moral thing to do. MY question is why wasn't he doing his job. Why wasn't he on deck and guiding this ferry through the most difficult part of this trip and the worst weather? Why did he have a novice at the wheel who didn't know how to handle the ferry in the swift currents and foul weather and had never done this before? WHAT WAS HE DOING???

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1 reply
starthrower50 Nancy April 20 2014 at 1:21 PM

There are a lot of questions that we don't have answers for and likely won't have until there is some sort of formal inquiry into the whole tragedy. I don't know why the captain wasn't at the helm IF he knew the waters there were so treacherous. But 13.5 hours is a very long shift for most people, let alone someone who is 68 or 69, so he had a right to be relieved to get some rest. The responsibility would then fall to the next most senior mate, who apparently assigned the third most senior mate who had NO experience with those waters! I'd like to know why THAT was done!

One thing I did read early on is the captain didn't rush immediately to the life boat. He went to the helm first to assess the situation and give orders. Why or when he left after that I'm unsure of. But witnesses do say he was one of the first people to get into a lifeboat.

So the questions that remain in my mind are DID THE CAPTAIN KNOW they were in such treacherous waters? Then, DID THE SECOND MATE KNOW the same thing? and finally, WHO ASSIGNED THE INEXPERIENCED THIRD MATE through such a rough and narrow area? Other questions include did anyone know a typhoon was on the way? If the captain did, did he ever considered turning back? (Perhaps he should have.)

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jrod8744 April 20 2014 at 10:06 AM

My heart goes out to the victim's families who now are faced with so much grief.

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1 reply
silverbowl10 jrod8744 April 20 2014 at 10:40 AM

Hey, I clicked the green thumb and got two votes. I noticed inaccuracies with this feature over the years.

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4 replies
Gloria April 20 2014 at 5:21 PM

So sorry for the relatives of the missing such a tragedy and I hope the Captain is held accountable he never should have left the passenger inside the ship if they had at least gotten out with vests on they could have survived. A lot for those resposible to live with. Hope by some miracle they find more alive. We will keep praying for them.

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Victor April 20 2014 at 5:31 PM

It seems the world goes from on terrible disaster to another,

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margaret April 20 2014 at 5:31 PM

Beyond words, terrible tragedy. May the families of the victims find some consolation. Let us pray ...

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Gayle April 20 2014 at 9:15 AM

So many tragedies lately that could have been avoided. The massive heartbreak of families and friends is un imaginable. RIP

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1 reply
golffrdlrs Gayle April 20 2014 at 4:56 PM

That's true. and there is a lot of praying for saving victims and helping survivors which is all very nice but how about praying to god to prevent these things. It would be much easier for god to cause a mechanical problem before the boat ever left port than to answer all these thousands of prayers after the fact. An all knowing all seeing omnipotent god would have known this would happen and could have stopped it. So what is the point in praying after the fact. If this was all part of his plan to begin with then don't you think he's thought the rest of the details through that people are praying about?

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Johnny ! April 20 2014 at 3:09 PM

Let's face facts....They're all dead by now. It's cruel for the media to continuously broadcast that many "may" still be alive.

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1 reply
tenentesaj Johnny ! April 20 2014 at 4:25 PM

Sadly, I agree with you.

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