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Transcript reveals confusion over ferry evacuation

Transcript Reveals Confusion in Ferry Evacuation

JINDO, South Korea (AP) - Divers continued the grim work of recovering bodies from inside a sunken South Korean ferry Monday, as a newly released transcript showed the ship was crippled by confusion and indecision well after it began listing. The transcript suggests that the chaos may have added to a death toll that could eventually exceed 300.

About 30 minutes after the Sewol began tilting, a crew member asked a marine traffic controller whether passengers would be rescued if they abandoned ship off South Korea's southern coast, the transcript, released Sunday, showed. The crew member posed the question three times in succession.

That followed several statements from the ship that people aboard could not move and another in which someone said that it was "impossible to broadcast" instructions.

Many people followed the captain's initial order to stay below deck, where it is feared they remain trapped. Sixty-one bodies have been recovered, and about 240 people are still missing.

"Even if it's impossible to broadcast, please go out and let the passengers wear life jackets and put on more clothing," an unidentified official at Jindo Vessel Traffic Services Center urged at 9:24 a.m. Wednesday, 29 minutes after the ferry first reported trouble, according to the transcript released by South Korea's coast guard.

"If this ferry evacuates passengers, will you be able to rescue them?" the unidentified crew member asked.

"At least make them wear life rings and make them escape!" the traffic-center official responded.

"If this ferry evacuates passengers, will they be rescued right away?" the crew member asked again.

"Don't let them go bare - at least make them wear life rings and make them escape!" the traffic official repeated. "The rescue of human lives from the Sewol ferry ... the captain should make his own decision and evacuate them. We don't know the situation very well. The captain should make the final decision and decide whether you're going to evacuate passengers or not."

"I'm not talking about that," the crew member said. "I asked, if they evacuate now, can they be rescued right away?"

The traffic official then said patrol boats would arrive in 10 minutes, though another civilian ship was already nearby and had told controllers that it would rescue anyone who went overboard.

The ferry sank with 476 people on board, many of them students from a single high school. The cause of the disaster is not yet known, but prosecutors have said the ship made a sharp turn before it began to list. Several crew members, including the captain, have been arrested on suspicion of negligence and abandoning passengers.

More than 170 people survived the sinking of the Sewol, which had been on its way from the South Korean port city of Incheon to the southern tourist island of Jeju. The captain took more than half an hour to issue an evacuation order, which several passengers have said they never heard.

The confirmed death toll climbed over the weekend after divers finally found a way inside the sunken vessel and quickly discovered more than a dozen bodies. They had been hampered for days by strong currents, bad weather and low visibility.

The South Korean news agency Yonhap reported that another body was recovered early Monday near the sunken ship.

As the divers continued searching Monday, relatives huddled around signboards listing descriptions of a half dozen yet-unidentified bodies that were pulled out of the vessel overnight.

Dozens of relatives have started camping out at the port in Jindo to be closer to where the search was taking place, sleeping in tents in the open. Volunteers provided food and drinks and ran cellphone charging stations. A Buddhist monk in white robes stood facing the water and chanted in a calm monotone as several relatives stood behind him, their hands pressed together and heads bowed in prayer.

The bodies found early Monday were all female and presumed to be students. Details of the bodies provided a glimpse into the youthful lives they once led. Many were fond of hoodies and track pants. One girl had red manicured fingernails and black toenails. Another wore braces.

Anguished families, fearful they might be left without even their loved ones' bodies, vented rage Sunday over the government's handling of the crisis.

About 100 relatives attempted a long protest march to the presidential Blue House in Seoul, about 400 kilometers (250 miles) to the north, saying they wanted to voice their complaints to President Park Geun-hye. They walked for about six hours before police officers in neon jackets blocked a main road.

"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 17-year-old missing passenger Lee Jung-in. "They are clearly lying and kicking the responsibility to others."

He said relatives are desperate to retrieve bodies before they decompose beyond recognition.

"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 Sewol's captain, Lee Joon-seok, 68, was arrested Saturday, along with one of the ship's three helmsmen and the 25-year-old third mate. The third mate was steering at the time of the accident, in a challenging area where she had not steered before, and the captain said he was not on the bridge at the time.

Senior prosecutor Yang Jung-jin said the third mate has refused to tell investigators why she made the sharp turn. Prosecutors have not named the third mate, but a fellow crew member identified her as Park Han-kyul.

As he was taken from court in Mokpo on Saturday, the captain explained his decision to wait before ordering an evacuation.

"At the time, the current was very strong, the temperature of the ocean water was cold," Lee told reporters, describing his fear that passengers, even if they were wearing life jackets, could drift away "and face many other difficulties."

He said rescue boats had not yet arrived, and there were no civilian vessels nearby.


Kim reported from Mokpo, South Korea; Foster Klug, Youkyung Lee, Jung-yoon Choi and Leon Drouin-Keith in Seoul; and Minjeong Hong in Jindo contributed to this report.

Join the discussion

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cincyburb01 April 21 2014 at 12:00 AM

From reading this article, it seems to me that more than just the Captain is to blame for the huge loss of life in this disaster. The traffic controller was asked an all-important question over and over again from a ship's mate, and was not getting an answer. Something is very wrong here, and it needs to be figured out. Is it incompetence, language barriers, or something else? It seems to me that much better safeguards and protocol should be in place for when something like this happens.

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2 replies
dccb3 cincyburb01 April 21 2014 at 12:22 AM

the traffic controller responded that the passengers should escape...twice.
"At least make them wear life rings and make them escape!" the traffic-center official responded.
"Don't let them go bare - at least make them wear life rings and make them escape!" the traffic official repeated.
not sure what article you were reading.

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1 reply
rcsyes dccb3 April 21 2014 at 1:21 AM

See, you are an example of what I am talking about. You are stupid. Yes, it is true that the traffic controller suggested they wear life rings and extra clothing...and don't let them go bare, but that WAS NOT THE ISSUE. The issue was, IS HELP ON THE WAY TO RESCUE THESE PEOPLE WHO WILL BE IN THE FRIGID WATER WHICH WILL KILL THEM in a short time. That was the question which was NOT BEING ANSWERED. What article were you reading you stupid?

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Karen cincyburb01 April 21 2014 at 12:25 AM

Sounded more like somebody trying to kiss the captain's butt by only asking exactly what that "captain" wanted to know.

That or the mate was afraid to ask or accept any other answer due to the "captain" and his "my way or no way" sense of importance that the repeated question seemed to convey.

The mate was given an answer of getting people off that ship and help was on the way. Refusing to accept THAT answer shows a "rigid" form of control over the mate by someone else; guessing it to be the "captain".

The captain seemed more concerned about people "drifting away" than drowning it would seem. Strange reactions to a disaster by all concerned in charge of that ship.

Just an opinion..................................

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jdbcfc April 20 2014 at 2:07 PM

I cannot wrap my arms around such a horrible tragedy. I am praying

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parke101 April 21 2014 at 4:40 AM

Lifeboats, did they not have lifeboats available?! Why didn't the crew start loading passengers into the lifeboats immediately? Wtf were they waiting for? Better to err on the side of safety than to wait and see if things improve on their own! Sounds like a rehash of the Concordia in Italy!

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2 replies
Dianne parke101 April 21 2014 at 6:20 AM

The crew kept asking when help would come to get the passangers if/when they put them in lifeboats or the water. The sea was freezing and there where strong currents that could have taken them out to sea. The crew didn't want to put them in that postion if help wasn't coming to get them quickly. As long as the ferry was sinking, it seemed like a no-win situation. The passengers were either going to drown in the ferry, die from exposure or be lost in strong currents.
It's a horrible way to die in any case. How terrifying. My heart goes out to those poor victims and their families.

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oldfarrk parke101 April 21 2014 at 9:59 AM

47 lifeboats went unused . Enough for about 200 people . Unused . The only lifeboat used was to save the coward captain and his crew . That fact should seal the death penalty for those cowards !

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toyssportscenter April 20 2014 at 1:43 PM

As a parent of 4 young kids in Elementary, Jr. & Sr. High School this truly breaks my heart thinking of what the parents of these young kids must be going through. There is no way I would be able to carry on with my life if this tragic accident involved one of my own. There are no words that can be said to these families. I am still at a loss to try and think of how these families are going to cope with this tragedy now and forever in their future.

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1 reply
phrankly toyssportscenter April 20 2014 at 3:08 PM

many of them ARE NOT COPING. they take their own lives which will not bring their children back. how sad. i pray for them daily.

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ron April 21 2014 at 5:09 AM

And your next tragedy headline is??? The media feed on tragedy and that's because so do we. No more Malaysia airline story? What happened?Oh, yeah, more death to report on.

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1 reply
bigblackattack72 ron April 21 2014 at 5:40 AM

You are absolutely correct in your tragedy assessment, Ron; but to be fair, this is an actual news story of some significance that should be reported.

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Ghetto Cat April 20 2014 at 12:31 PM

If this happened in the US, the Captain and the two crew would probably just be the fatalities. God Bless The USA!

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maemurphy123 April 20 2014 at 12:21 PM

nothing to say. just sooo sorry, and will pray for the missing and thier families.

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fmasone April 21 2014 at 8:33 AM

Captain told people to stay beloow and then he abanded ship Wrong hang him high!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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1 reply
Matt Dougherty fmasone April 21 2014 at 9:50 AM


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mproviderone April 21 2014 at 7:07 AM

we have had way to many ships go down. over some ones mistake. I think they need to start testing them once a year. just because their doing the job don't mean their doing it right. even truck drivers you have the police and d.o.t up your butt all the time,and their not hauling 500 kids. or a cruise ship full of people,!!!!!!!

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iphonerulez April 20 2014 at 12:06 PM

It's a given that there are no more survivors and it's really sad that all those high school students lost their lives so young. I know they want to blame the captain for his indecision but no matter what he said there probably been a lot of lost lives. In hindsight it's always easy to say what should have been done, but unless you're there at that moment, you can never be certain what's the best solution. It's probably more important to find out what caused that ferry to list to the side.

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2 replies
almmj iphonerulez April 20 2014 at 12:33 PM

i dont think i blame the captain for his indecision.....i blame the captain for his DECISIONS...He DECIDED NOT to be at the helm during a dangerous part of the voyage. He DECIDED to evacuate himself before his passengers. It was his bad DECISIONS that caused the ferry to sink with so many on board. Not his indecision.

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jamesfranco420 iphonerulez April 20 2014 at 2:31 PM

I don't know about that. A small ship went down couple months ago and everyone in it was presumed dead. They sent down people to recover bodies and one of the scuba divers was shocked to find this one guy alive. The guy found an air pocket and stayed alive for about a week.

When pearl Harbor happened they said they could hear men inside some of the sunken ships. But they did not have a way to get them out. Just saying they might find someone

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