Emerging reports suggest that the crew aboard the South Korean ferry that sank with 475 people on board — 287 of whom are still missing — severely mishandled the response to the accident. So far, nine people have been pronounced dead and 179 rescued. And hope is fading that those missing are still alive.
According to CNN affiliate YTN, only one lifeboat of the 46 on board the ferry was deployed when the boat started to sink. CNN adds that another affiliate, JTBC, got hold of video showing at least 12 survival capsules, which hold lifeboats, still attached to the side of the vessel when it was turned on its side.
And the Associated Press reports that those on board were not told to evacuate until about half an hour after the ship started to sink:
The first instructions from the captain were for the passengers to put on life jackets and stay put, and it was not until about 30 minutes later that he ordered an evacuation, Oh Yong-seok, a 58-year-old crew member, told The Associated Press. But Oh said he wasn't sure if the captain's order, given to crew members, was actually relayed to passengers on the public address system. Several survivors also told the AP that they never heard any evacuation order.
Oh added that the crew did not send out a distress call until the ferry was listing by more than five degrees, the tipping point for a ship. Oh described a scene of confusion after the call was sent out. Again, the AP reports:
A third mate reported that the ship could not be righted, and the captain ordered another attempt, which also failed, Oh said. A crew member then tried to reach a lifeboat but tripped, prompting the first mate to suggest to the captain that everyone should evacuate, Oh said. The captain agreed and ordered an evacuation, but Oh said that amid the confusion and chaos on the bridge he does not recall the message being conveyed on the public address system. By then it was impossible for crew members to move to passengers' rooms.
Survivor Koo Bon-hee told the Associated Press that people had enough time to jump into the water, but were stopped by the crews orders. Koo said, "The rescue wasn't done well. We were wearing life jackets. We had time... If people had jumped into the water ... they could have been rescued. But we were told not to go out."
Ferry captain Lee Joon Suk, who could face charges of negligence and accidental homicide, tearfully apologized to families of the missing passengers, saying "I am sorry, I am at a loss for words."
It's not clear whether he was in violation of official procedures. If he had reason to believe that the ship could be righted an evacuation would have been unnecessary.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye urged searchers to hurry, but bad weather has made it difficult for rescue missions to scan the water (or get into the boat) for the missing passengers. According to Security and Public Administration Minister Kang Byung-kyu, "we carried out underwater searches five times from midnight until early in the morning, but strong currents and the murky water pose tremendous obstacles." He added that he hopes underwater lights will aid the search moving forward. So far, 500 divers, 171 vessels and 29 aircraft have contributed to the difficult search.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.