S Korean ferry toll rises to 275: report

ARREST DEVELOPMENTS::A S Korean court ordered the arrest of the ferry operator’s boss in the ongoing probe into who is responsible for the April 16 disaster


Sun, May 11, 2014 - Page 4

Divers have retrieved two more bodies from the wreck of the South Korean ferry that sank last month, as conditions on the ship deteriorated further, officials said yesterday.

The bodies were found late on Friday in the inverted, submerged ship, bringing the confirmed death toll from the April 16 disaster to 275, South Korean Coast Guard spokesman Ko Myung-suk told journalists. That leaves 29 missing.

Divers have now swept through most of the ship, which is resting on its side at a depth of more than 40 meters off the country’s southern coast.

However, as days go by, they are retrieving fewer and fewer bodies.

The divers have also reported that partition walls on the ship have started warping and are at risk of collapsing, which would further complicate their work, a South Korean government task force said in a statement.

The divers have been under immense pressure from the authorities and the victims’ families to retrieve all the trapped bodies as quickly as possible.

They face enormous hazards and challenges, including near-zero visibility, strong currents and often treacherous weather conditions.

A storm warning was likely to be raised later yesterday, Ko said.

“But the government will push through with the search operations,” he said.

The Sewol was carrying 476 people when it sank after listing.

Of those on board, 325 were children from a high school in Ansan City in the southern suburbs of Seoul who were on an organized trip to the southern resort island of Jeju.

Initial investigations suggest the ferry was carrying up to three times its safe cargo capacity.

The ferry had been habitually overloaded, investigators said.

The Sewol’s regular captain, who was off duty on the day of the accident, has told prosecutors that the ferry operator — Chonghaejin Marine Co — “brushed aside” repeated warnings that the 20-year-old ship had stability issues following a renovation in 2012.

A court warrant was issued late on Friday to arrest the head of Chonghaejin, Kim Han-sik, Prosecutor Yang Jong-jin told reporters yesterday.

He faces charges of manslaughter through negligence and breaches of vessel safety laws, Yonhap news agency said.

The latest move brought to five the number of Chonghaejin officials arrested over the disaster.

Meanwhile, there has been no respite in nationwide mourning over the catastrophe. The government said more than 1.65 million people had paid their respects at memorial places across South Korea since the mourning period began.

At a public park in Ansan, about 2,000 students held a candlelit vigil on Friday night for the victims, with yellow ribbons tied to their arms.