April 19, 2014 00:00 By The Korea Herald,
No survivors found; 268 still missing; school official kills self; Bangkokians pray for victims
Divers from South Korea’s Navy and coast guard yesterday entered the interior of the capsized ferry for the first time since the 6,825-tonne vessel sank on Wednesday. However, they failed to find any survivors.
They had initially injected air into the ship and installed buoys to keep it from sinking further.
As of yesterday evening, 28 of the total 475 passengers were confirmed dead, while 268 remained unaccounted for. Among the passengers, 325 were students from Danwon High School in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province, who were on a trip to Jejudo Island.
The school’s vice principal, surnamed Kang, who had been rescued from the ferry earlier, was found dead in an apparent suicide yesterday afternoon. Police said Kang hanged himself from a tree on a hill near a gymnasium in Jindo, South Jeolla Province, where a disaster information centre has been set up for the victims’ families.
In the morning, four massive cranes arrived at the scene to back the ongoing rescue efforts. In addition, 108 naval ships, 61 civilian ships and 535 personnel including military and civilian divers joined the search.
The rescue authorities chose not to salvage the vessel until all victims have been pulled up from the ship, as any mistakes in the rescue effort could lead to the loss of air and bodies in the ship, given the strong tidal currents. The victims’ families have also opposed the salvaging of the ship.
Announcing an interim result of its probe, an investigation team of prosecutors and police said the ferry’s captain, surnamed Lee, had handed the ship’s wheel to an inexperienced third mate before the vessel began sinking. Yesterday an arrest warrant was issued against Lee, who underwent questioning for a third consecutive day. Lee has been criticised for being the first to jump ship, while hundreds of passengers tried to save themselves.
“We need to investigate where the captain was when the ship sank, as accounts are still conflicting,” Lee Sung-yun, who is leading the investigation team, said at a press conference.
As for the cause of the disaster, authorities said they were looking to see if the person behind the wheel had changed the direction normally or too sharply. Investigators suspect that the ship took a sharp turn when only a gradual change was required, which caused the ship to lose balance and ultimately capsize.
Prayers for South Korea
In Bangkok, Nation TV Channel 22, a sister organisation of The Nation newspaper, held a “Pray for South Korea” event yesterday to express its solidarity with South Korea.
The event, which featured live music and a large banner for people write their condolences on, was held on the open area next to Siam Discovery shopping mall. Nation TV has a new studio on the ground floor.
Nation Multimedia Group (NMG) chairman Suthichai Yoon said Thais and people of different nationalities gathered at the event yesterday to express their support for the victims and their families.
“We want to let South Korea know that friends from across the world are standing by them,” Suthichai said.
Meanwhile, South Korean Ambassador to Thailand Jeon Jae Man thanked the well-wishers, saying: “Thank you all for writing the messages. I was moved by the event and your prayers will be delivered to the bereaved families in Korea. Your prayers will be very strong support for them to go ahead despite the tremendous tragedy. Thank you very much.”
NMG editor-in-chief Thepchai Yong said everybody in Thailand was praying for a miracle.
“We are praying for [more] survivors,” Suthichai added.
Siriti Kongpaen, 20, a first-year student majoring in Korean language at the Thai Chamber of Commerce University, said she had joined the event to offer her condolences and to give moral support to South Korea.
“Even though I can’t do anything to help, at least I can pray that everybody is reunited with their loved ones,” said Siriti, who began using #prayforkorea on Twitter on the first day of the tragedy.
She added that she found the photographs of the distraught parents deeply moving and had developed a deep dislike for the ship’s captain, who apparently left the ship early to save himself. “I hate him,” she declared.
Kamolchanok Boonsoros, a Business Administration freshman at Nation University, said the news was disturbing.
The student added that the vast coverage of the disaster had raised the Thai public’s level of sympathy.
Yesterday’s event attracted the attention of Korean media, with the Korean Broadcasting Corporation at hand to interview participants.
Nation TV has also sent a crew to South Korea to cover the disaster. The team will work with the English-language daily Korea Herald, which is part of the Asia News Network.