|▲ /Photo=Incheon Times|
Braving rain, high waves and strong winds, rescuers resumed their desperate search Friday for hundreds of people still missing in the sinking of a passenger ship off the southwestern coast of South Korea.
The death toll rose to 25 as of 10 a.m. as more bodies were found floating in the site overnight. Of 475 passengers, 179 have been rescued, with 271 others, mostly high-school students, remaining unaccounted for.
More than 48 hours have passed since the 6,825-ton ferry Sewol capsized in waters off the country's southwestern island of Jindo. It was en route for the southern resort island of Jeju from the western port of Incheon.
Hundreds of divers continued their attempts to gain access to inside the submerged ship, but in vain. Unmanned robots were also waiting to be dispatched underwater to find survivors, according to officials.
Three salvage cranes, including a 3,200-ton one, arrived at the scene earlier in the day, either to move the hull, at a depth of about 35 meters, to some other place where the tidal current is weak or to salvage it.
"But we will review the options very carefully, as the salvage operations may hurt survivors trapped inside," a Coast Guard officer said.
"We are also considering using a floating dock to set the ship afloat," he said, adding divers are trying to inject oxygen inside the ship both to have the ship floated and to help survivors trapped inside to breathe.
The ship was on the verge of going completely underwater, further lowering the possibility that any survivors could be found.
Experts say that people could survive for 72 hours if there are "air pockets" in compartments.
The authorities have launched a full investigation into surviving crewmen, including Sewol's 69-year-old captain Lee Jun-seok, to find the exact cause of the tragedy.
Investigators are placing weight on the possibility of a sudden shift in cargo, which caused 180 vehicles and 1,157 tons of freight on board to slide to one side, disrupting the balance of the ship.
At the time of the accident, a 26-year-old third mate with one year of experience was found to have been steering the vessel, which officials suspect also contributed to the deadly outcome.
Police are also looking into claims that captain Lee was among the first to leave the vessel in violation of seafarers' law.
|▲ /Photo=Incheon Times|
Public uproar has erupted against Lee for his alleged poor management of the emergency situation before the boat's sinking. He is suspected of instructing passengers to remain seated even as the boat was listing leftward fast, stripping them of any chance to escape.
It is feared to be the nation's biggest ferry disaster since 1993, when a vessel capsized off its west coast, killing 292 people.
The ship, which travels between Incheon and Jeju twice a week, was built in Japan in 1994. The 20-year-old vessel is 146 meters long and 22 meters wide and has a maximum capacity of 921 people, 180 vehicles and 152 shipping containers at the same time.
Earlier in the day, families of those missing announced a public statement denouncing the government's poor response and calling for help.
"Nobody told us about what went wrong and what was happening out there. There was not even a situation room in charge by late Wednesday," a representative of the families said in the appeal.
Claiming that the authorities "told lies that they mobilized 555 divers along with 69 vessels and 121 helicopters for rescue operations while fewer than 200 people and two military ships were there," they said the government even refrained them from approaching the vessel.
"Our children would be shouting for help in the freezing water," he said in tears. "Please help us save our children." /Yonhap News