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SKorea ferry toll hits 150 as search gets tougher


JINDO, South Korea (AP) -- The grim work of recovering bodies from the submerged South Korea ferry proceeded rapidly Wednesday, with the official death toll reaching 150, though a government official said divers must now rip through cabin walls to retrieve more victims.

The victims are overwhelmingly students of a single high school in Ansan, near Seoul. More than three-quarters of the 323 students are dead or missing, while nearly two-thirds of the other 153 people on board the ferry Sewol when it sank one week ago survived.

Even with about 150 people still missing, the funeral halls in Ansan are already full, Oh Sang-yoon of the government-wide emergency task force center said in a statement. He said the center "is taking measures to accommodate additional bodies by placing mortuary refrigerators at the funeral halls in Ansan," and directing mourning families to funeral homes in nearby cities.

On Jindo island, where bodies recovered from the ferry are taken, descriptions of the dead are read over a loudspeaker. Relatives rush over to the main notice board and peered at details added by an official.

Some relatives cry out and run from the tent. Others stand red-eyed and shell-shocked.

The number of corpses recovered has risen sharply since the weekend, when divers battling strong currents and low visibility were finally able to enter the submerged vessel. But task force spokesman Koh Myung-seok the work is becoming more difficult, and divers must now break through cabin walls to retrieve more bodies.

"The lounge is one big open space, so once in it we got our search done straight away. But in the case of the cabins, we will have to break down the walls in between because they are all compartments," Koh said.

Twenty-two of the 29 members of the ferry's crew survived, and 11 have been arrested or detained in connection with the investigation. Two were arrested Wednesday, senior prosecutor Ang Sang-don said.

The captain, Lee Joon-seok, and two crew members were arrested Saturday on suspicion of negligence and abandoning people in need. On Tuesday, four crew members were arrested and another two were detained without arrest warrants.

The four crew members arrested Tuesday talked to reporters after a court hearing, their faces hidden with caps, hooded sweatshirts and masks.

One said they tried to correct the ferry's listing early on but "various devices, such as the balance weight, didn't work. So we reported the distress situation, according to the captain's judgment, and tried to launch the lifeboats, but the ferry was too tilted and we couldn't reach."

The captain 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.

Koh, of the task force, said bodies have mostly been found on the third and fourth floors of the ferry, where many passengers seemed to have gathered. Many students were housed in cabins on the fourth floor, near the stern of the ship, Koh said.

The cause of the disaster is not yet known. Senior prosecutor Ahn Sang-don said investigators are considering factors including wind, ocean currents, freight, modifications made to the ship and the fact that it turned just before it began listing. He said authorities will conduct a simulation and get experts' opinions.

The Ministry of Ocean and Fisheries had released incomplete data on the turn last week because a central station did not receive all the signals the Sewol's on-board transponder had sent. It released more complete details on Tuesday with data received by another station, and those show that the ferry spent about three minutes making a roughly 180-degree turn shortly before it began to list.

It remains unclear why the ship turned around. The third mate, who was arrested Saturday, 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.

Shareholders of the Sewol's owner, Chonghaejin Marine Co. Ltd., apologized in a statement that was distributed to reporters outside the office in Incheon, saying they feel "infinite sadness and responsibility."

"We will humbly accept all responsibility for this accident and we will not hesitate to do anything to console the pain of victims and grieving families even a little bit," said the statement from Yu Dae-kyun, Yu Hyuk-gi and others who are de facto owners of Chonghaejin. The company's president had apologized earlier.

In Ansan, a temporary memorial for the victims opened at Olympic Museum, a couple of blocks from Danwon High School, which the students attended.

Join the discussion

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GENE April 23 2014 at 10:38 AM

this is more than just sad, its tragic. they were high school kids, just children, and nobody was looking out for them...... i can't imagine the pure terror those children must have suffered during the last 30 to 60 minutes of their lives and how that little amount of time must have seemed like forever to them....... pure hell

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weynspirit April 23 2014 at 9:03 AM

south korea is a poor country, the boat probaly was out dated 25 years or so like everything thing else in that country, when i was there in the seventies it was likw walking back in time 50 years, although south korea is being modernized, i still believe they have a long way to go to catch up with the rest world, sad for them to have this happen, most south koreans are kind people , may God help them and comfort them in these, trying times, and in the furture, they are good people, with big hearts,

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4 replies
justputinalong April 23 2014 at 9:33 AM

This is so sad and could have had a better outcome if the captain had ordered everyone on top deck and given them all lifejackets which would have given them all a chance to survive. My heart goes out to all who lost loved ones.

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1 reply
miatamamas justputinalong April 23 2014 at 11:12 AM

And clearly, the captain is a huge coward! Whatever happened to "The captain goes down with the ship"?

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2 replies
miracles miatamamas April 23 2014 at 11:25 AM

This is not a legal requirement but it is a moral one.

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mpusairsret miatamamas April 23 2014 at 6:14 PM

In Korea it is the law that the captain must wait for all passengers to disembark before leaving the ship. THIS IS THE LAW IN KOREA.

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Charlie Deeee April 23 2014 at 8:38 AM

A ferry of this size would have to have all the latest electronics available that has been manufactured in the U.S. My guess is the inexperienced deck hand eyeballed it, saw the shallows and tried turning the ferry around when he should have had his eye on the plot charter and the dept sounder.

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1 reply
mpusairsret Charlie Deeee April 23 2014 at 11:36 AM

Korea is the 2d largest global ship builder. The vessel was build in 1994 in Japan, purchased in 2012, refurbished with the latest equipment and placed in service last year. The vessel is 12 years newer than the average age of vessels in the WA State Ferry fleet. Doubt that the age of equiment had much to do with the accident.

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charlie April 23 2014 at 9:17 AM

over load any boat and you will get the same results.

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2 replies
zonel charlie April 23 2014 at 9:24 AM

I believe it was only just past 1/2 full so hardly overloaded.

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2 replies
zonel zonel April 23 2014 at 9:27 AM

actually I apologize as you were referring to the cargo which may well have been overloaded or at the very least not ballasted correctly.

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jenny jen ny zonel April 23 2014 at 11:04 AM

Somewhere I read it was overloaded with cargo.....

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miracles charlie April 23 2014 at 11:27 AM

Ship owners are corrupt and they recently modified the ship but may not have been according to proper weight, etc.

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sachfoxo April 23 2014 at 11:34 AM

I thought that the Captain is the last one off the Ship , This Coward was the first one off the Ferry ?
The whole story Smell like S***. Rest in Peace People who were Deserted ..........Despicable !

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htwosocks April 23 2014 at 9:47 AM

Has there been an official cause put forth for this tragedy ?

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ckitcha April 23 2014 at 6:35 AM

I can only imagine the agony, broken hearts and frustrations of families waiting all this time to hopefully recover the bodies of their children. My prayers and thoughts to them all during this time. May God give them strength for closure!

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miracles April 23 2014 at 11:22 AM

Why is it that the government of S. Korea does not have a mandate that safety instructions be performed before the ship leaves port or at the beginning of the trip; just like every flight on a plane?? Is this not part of their government's fault too? Wait for tragedy again to reinstate safety measures and by 2015 - it will be too late for these beautiful young lives!

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1 reply
mpusairsret miracles April 23 2014 at 11:24 AM

Not even required on ferries in the US.

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fwlrcj April 23 2014 at 11:27 AM

I really feel sorry for everyone involved but I think it should be a law here when a badly built building colapsed or when there is an accident such as this, not just sue them but put them in jail. I bet being in jail would have a bigger implact than just paying out money.

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