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

Taliban's New Leader Says Jihad Will Continue

Top US Afghan diplomat also meets with Pakistani, Afghan officials following news of Mullah Omar's death More

Video US Landmark Pushes Endangered Species

People gathered in streets, on rooftops in Manhattan to see image highlights that covered 33 floors of Empire State Building More

World’s Widest Suspension Bridge Being Built Over Bosphorus

Once built, Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge will span 2 kilometers with about 1.5 kilometers over water, and will be longest suspension bridge in world carrying rail system 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.
Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missionsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
July 30, 2015 8:59 PM
Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.

VOA Blogs