News / Asia

Inquiry Focuses on Korean Ferry Crew

Family member of missing passengers who were on the South Korean ferry
Family member of missing passengers who were on the South Korean ferry "Sewol" which sank in the sea off Jindo cry at a port where family members of missing passengers gathered in Jindo, April 18, 2014.
The unfolding situation in South Korea, where a modern passenger ferry close to shore quickly sank with most of its passengers still onboard, is raising concern about the safety of such vessels and whether the crew responded properly. International maritime accident specialists are expressing confidence that an investigation will determine the tragedy’s cause. Coast guard officials say as of midday Friday, 28 people were confirmed dead, although the death toll is expected to rise sharply.  Rescuers have fought strong currents and murky waters in their search for 268 people still missing, while 179 passengers have been rescued.
 
It is not only bereaved families questioning how so many could be stranded onboard a ship that capsized and sank in relatively shallow water close to a coastal island.
 
South Korea’s coast guard is still focused on retrieving the bodies of those inside the vessel and those being found floating in the sea. Preliminary information from investigators reveals the five-story tall ferry, on a voyage from Incheon to the resort island of Jeju, made a sudden, sharp turn, some minutes before the first distress call Wednesday morning. 
 
Former ferry boat captain Kit Filor in Australia cautioned against jumping to any conclusions prior to a full investigation of the sinking of the ferry named Sewol.
 
“The sudden turn may be because somebody on the bridge ordered the course altered suddenly. Or it may have been from an external source, such as a loss of watertight integrity may have caused in itself the un-stability of the ship. What we really need: a thorough investigation, an objective investigation which I know that the Korean authorities will conduct. They are very expert in these sorts of areas,” said Filor.
 
Filor said ferries like the Sewol that can carry vehicles and so are called roll-on, roll off ferries, or ROROs, have been involved in numerous high-profile accidents with significant loss of life. But Filor, who has taught courses in numerous countries on conducting maritime accident investigations, said the ships themselves are not inherently dangerous.
 
“Most of the accidents that occur to RORO’s, I think, really occur because of an external force, such as a fire, a collision, a door being left open. Normally, though, if they are operated in reasonable sea conditions and within the regulations that govern them they are a safe form of transport,” said Filor.
 
The diesel-powered Sewol, built in Japan in 1994, was capable of carrying nearly 1,000 people and dozens of cars and trucks. It sank within two hours of sending its initial distress signal.
 
More than 300 of the 475 people on board were teenaged students on a school trip. Officials say the third mate was apparently at the wheel when the accident happened. The captain is in police custody.
 
There are reports from survivors that the captain and most of the crew abandoned ship without even telling passengers to flee for their lives. Those who were on the topmost and lowest decks apparently had the best opportunities to escape. Some of those rescued say an announcement was repeatedly broadcast on the ship telling passengers to stay put, even an hour after the first distress call and less than 90 minutes before the 14-meter high vessel completely capsized.
 
The incident is likely to become South Korea’s worst maritime disaster in decades.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

You May Like

Video Iran Nuclear Deal Becomes US Campaign Issue

Voters in three crucial battleground states - Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania - overwhelmingly oppose nuclear deal with Iran More

With IS in Coalition Cross-Hairs, al-Qaida's Syria Affiliate Reemerges

Jabhat al-Nusra has rebounded, increasingly casting itself as a critical player in battle for Syria’s future More

Lessons Learned From Katrina, 10 Years Later

FEMA chief Craig Fugate says key changes include better preparation, improved coordination among state, federal assistance agencies More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Maggie from: Hawaii
April 19, 2014 8:12 PM
It's hard to believe after the initial distress call the crew had at least 2 hours to begin lifevests and evacuations on life boats. But none of that happened. Instead they were told to 'stay put'. But the captain and crew left the ferry themselves. It's beyond sad and heartwretching

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs