News / Asia

    Inquiry Focuses on Korean Ferry Crew

    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.
    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

    Steve Herman is VOA's Senior Diplomatic Correspondent, based at the State Department.

    You May Like

    Escalation of Media Crackdown in Turkey Heightens Concerns

    Critics see 'a new dark age' as arrests of journalists, closures of media outlets by Erdogan government mount

    Russia Boasts of Troop Buildup on Flank, Draws Flak

    Russian military moves counter to efforts to de-escalate tensions, State Department says

    Video Iraqis Primed to March on Mosul, Foreign Minister Says

    Iraqi FM Ibrahim al-Jaafari tells VOA the campaign will meet optimistic expectations, even though US officials remain cautious

    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.
    Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Processi
    X
    Katherine Gypson
    July 27, 2016 6:21 PM
    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora