Wed, May 07, 2014 - Page 6 News List

Frogman dies working at S Korea ferry disaster site

AFP, SEOUL

A diver died yesterday while working at a ferry disaster site in South Korea as further details emerged about how deception and negligence contributed to the April 16 tragedy.

The 53-year-old was on his first dive at the site and suffered breathing difficulties after reaching a depth of 25m, coast guard spokesman Ko Myung-suk told journalists.

The diver, who was identified only by his surname, Lee, lost consciousness and was pronounced dead at hospital, Ko added.

Full details of what happened have yet to emerge, but Yonhap news agency reported he was a veteran crew member of private firm Undine Marine Industries, a specialist in maritime rescue work.

Lee was the first victim among scores of divers who have been engaged in the grim task of finding and retrieving bodies from the sunken ship in hazardous and challenging conditions, such as fast currents and silty water. About 10 other divers have received treatment for exhaustion and decompression sickness since the operation began.

It had been 20 days since the 6,825 tonne Sewol capsized and sank with 476 people on board — most of them schoolchildren — off the southern coast.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye yesterday issued a fresh apology for her government’s failure to prevent the tragedy. The confirmed death toll stood at 263, while 39 people remain missing.

“As the president who should protect the lives of the people, I don’t know how to express my condolences to the bereaved families. I feel sorry and my heart is heavy with grief,” Park said. “Greed for material gains prevailed over safety regulations and such irresponsible behavior resulted in the loss of precious lives.”

Park had apologized for her government’s failure to combat systemic and regulatory “evils” that may have contributed to the accident and vowed to “sternly punish” any culprits.

The ferry sinking is one of South Korea’s worst peacetime disasters, made all the more shocking by the loss of so many young lives.

Of those on board, 325 were students from the same high school in Ansan, just south of Seoul. All 15 crew members, including the captain, have been arrested for abandoning the ship while hundreds were trapped inside.

Prosecutors also arrested three officials from the ferry operator — Chonghaejin Marine Co — last week on charges of loading the ferry well beyond its legal limit.

Yonhap news agency, citing investigators, said yesterday that the Sewol was loaded with just 580 tonnes of ballast water — only 37 percent of the legal requirement — in order to carry more cargo. This made the ship dangerously imbalanced.

Investigators said on Monday that the crew had failed to alert passengers to the imminent danger for 40 minutes after they sent distress signals and became the first to leave the ship aboard a rescue boat, leaving hundreds of passengers trapped inside the sinking ship, Yonhap said.

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