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April 23, 2014

S. Korea Ferry Death Toll at 150, Search for Victims Enters Second Week

The confirmed death toll from the South Korean ferry disaster climbed to 150 Wednesday, one week after the passenger boat capsized off the country's southwest coast.

Divers are slowly working their way through the third and fourth floors of the Sewol ferry. The boat is submerged upside down in murky waters and surrounded by a strong ocean current.

Coast Guard official Ko Myung-suk says divers will soon be helped by the arrival of high-tech underwater search equipment.



"We're planning to mobilize a multi-legged underwater robot and a side scan sonar. This means that we will mobilize various equipment and methods as much as we can, if it is going to help with the rescue operation."



More than 150 other passengers are missing and presumed dead, bringing the expected final death toll to around 300. That would make it South Korea's worst ferry disaster in two decades.

After the bodies are recovered, they are brought to nearby Jindo island. Inside the tents where the corpses are held, cries can be heard each time a relative identifies a victim.

The disaster has shocked South Korea. There is widespread public anger at the crew of the ship for abandoning the vessel before the evacuation was completed.



The captain was not operating the vessel at the time of the sinking, leaving an inexperienced third-mate in charge. The captain and six crew members are under arrest. President Park Geun-hye has said their actions were "tantamount to murder."

The crew has said they were reluctant to evacuate passengers because of fear they would not survive the cold water and strong ocean current. They also say the ship was listing heavily, making it hard to free lifeboats.

On Wednesday, prosecutors raided the homes and offices of the family that runs the Chonghaejin Marine Company, which owns the ferry.

The Sewol was carrying 476 passengers. Most were high school students who were headed for an outing on the resort island of Jeju.

Authorities are still investigating why the 6,800-ton boat capsized. Tracking data shows it made a sharp turn and began leaning heavily to one side before beginning to sink.

Meanwhile, in a rare move, North Korea sent a message of condolence for the victims of the disaster, particularly the young, missing students . The message was sent through the two Koreas' Red Cross organizations which regularly handles cross border communications.