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Korea kin angry over slow ferry rescue

Transcript shows confusion and indecision among crew after ferry began listing dangerously in calm waters.

Last updated: 20 Apr 2014 14:26
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Grieving relatives of hundreds of missing ferry passengers have staged a violent protest against a South Korean minister, venting their frustration over what they alleged was tardy rescue operation.

A relative of a missing passenger pulled the hair of Lee Ju-young, the minister in charge of the ocean policies, as he walked to the families at the port in the island of Jindo in the southwest of the country, where the bodies are being brought out of the sea.

Others yelled at him, saying the government has not come up with a concrete rescue plan and has failed to find survivors among those missing.

The ferry, carrying 476 passengers, many of them schoolchildren, and crew, capsized on Wednesday on a journey from the port of Incheon to the southern holiday island of Jeju.

South Korean divers had struggled against bad weather and strong currents until Saturday night, when they managed to get into the passenger quarters of the ferry which sank in 27 metres of water in calm seas on Wednesday.

A transcript released on Sunday shows the ferry that sank was crippled with confusion and indecision well after it began listing dangerously, possibly adding to a death toll that is officially at 62 but is expected to rise.

Three times in succession, and about half an hour after the ferry Sewol began tilting on Wednesday, a crew member asked Jindo Vessel Traffic Services Center (VTS) whether passengers would be rescued if they abandoned the ship off South Korea's southern coast, the AP news agency reported.

That followed several statements from the ship that it was impossible for people aboard to even move, and another in which it said it was "impossible to broadcast" instructions.

Trapped

Many people followed the captain's initial order to stay below deck, where it is feared they remain trapped. About 236 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 VTS official urged at 9:24 am local time, 29 minutes after the Sewol first reported trouble, according to the transcript, released by the South Korean coastguard.

So far, divers have recovered 13 more bodies from inside the ferry. Officials said on Sunday that the bodies were recovered after divers gained access to the inside of the ferry.

About 174 people have been rescued.

The captain of the ferry has been arrested on suspicion of negligence and abandoning people in need. Two other crew members have also been taken into custody, including a junior officer who a prosecutor said was steering in challenging waters unfamiliar to her when the accident occurred.

Shin Won-Nam, the head of the Emergency Management Centre, has told reporters that it could take weeks, if not months to complete the rescue operation.

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Source:
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