Some relatives of the more than 200 children missing aboard a sunken South Korean ferry offered DNA swabs yesterday to help identify the dead as rescue efforts turned into a mission to recover the vessel and the bodies of those on board.
Carrying 476 passengers and crew, the Sewol capsized on Wednesday while making a trip from the port of Incheon to the southern holiday island of Jeju. Thirty-two people have been confirmed dead so far.
The ferry’s 69-year-old captain, Lee Joon-seok, was arrested in the early hours of yesterday on charges of negligence, along with two other crew members, including the third mate, who was steering at the time of the capsize. Prosecutors later said that it was the third mate’s first time steering the Sewol.
All three have been criticized for abandoning hundreds of passengers trapped in the ferry, as they made their own escape.
Asked why the children had been ordered to stay in their cabins instead of abandoning ship, Lee — apparently overwhelmed by the scale of the disaster — told reporters he feared they would be swept out to sea in the strong current.
Early reports said the ferry turned sharply and listed, perhaps due to a shift in its cargo, and crew members said that Lee, who was not initially on the bridge, had tried to right the ship, but failed.
About 500 relatives of the 270 people listed as missing watched a murky underwater video shot after divers reported they had seen three bodies through the windows.
The official number of those missing was revised up from an earlier estimate of 269.
Packed in a gymnasium in the city of Jindo since Wednesday, tempers frayed and fist fights broke out after the video was shown. It did not appear to show any corpses.
“Please lift the ship, so we can get the bodies out,” said the mother of one of the children onboard.
Three cranes were moved close to the sunken ship yesterday, but were not deployed, as strong tides and rough weather again impeded efforts to get inside.
South Korean Coastguard spokesman Kim Jae-in said they would be deployed when the divers say that it is safe to do so.
“Lifting the ship does not mean they will remove it completely from the sea. They can lift it two to 3m off the seabed,” he added.
“The chances of finding anyone alive now are almost zero,” International Maritime Rescue Foundation chief executive officer Bruce Reid said.