Forty-eight bodies were found in one room of the submerged South Korean ferryboat by divers searching sunken rooms. Thus far, rescuers have retrieved 185 bodies, with over a hundred children still missing and presumed dead. The bodies of the 48 girls were found in a room that had an occupancy maximum of 30.
According to CNN on Friday, in the “final, chaotic moments” before the South Korean ferry Sewol started listing and eventually capsized completely into the Yellow Sea, the 48 girls “obeyed the orders of crew members and put on their life vests. Perhaps afraid, they all crammed into a single room meant for 30. None of them survived.”
The Sewol sank on April 16. A total of 476 souls were aboard. No one has been rescued since 174 people – mostly children – were plucked from the ship and chilly waters the day the ferry sank. Divers are currently attempting to make their way into another dormitory-style room where another 50 girls are thought to be.
“The rescue effort is getting slower,” said South Korean navy Capt. Kim Jin-Hwang, commander of the rescue operation. “The divers already searched all the places easily accessible. They are expecting the search to become harder because of increasing currents and harsher weather. But the navy will not stop until the last body is found.”
BBC Asia reports Kim as describing the difficult and horrific conditions facing his team as they search for bodies and maintain a glimmer of hope that someone may yet be found alive. Kim said floating, jammed objects are impeding progress, and many of the doors have been forced shut by the pressure of the water. Strong currents moving through the ferry tug at divers as they search room by room. Divers are breaking out windows to gain entry from the outside. The Sewol, temporarily kept from sinking to the sea floor by lifting bags, now rests on the seabed 240 feet below the surface.
“It's very stressful,” Kim said, adding that he and his team are well aware of the criticism directed at them over what appears to be a dilatory search. Kim said divers are only able to spend approximately 10 minutes under the water before having to surface, and assured the public that they are doing the best job possible given the circumstances.
“Just imagine a room that is flipped,” one of the divers said. “Everything is floating around, and it's hard to know exactly where they are.” Officials said rescuers are bringing about 30 bodies a day to the surface on average. Out of 111 rooms on the ferry, only 35 have been searched as of Friday.
According to report from Reuters, 52-year-old vice-principal Kang Min-gyu, who had been rescued from the ferry and reported thereafter as missing in the days after the accident, “appeared to have hanged himself with his belt from a tree outside a gym in the port city of Jindo where relatives of the people missing on the ship, mostly children from the school, were gathered.”
Investigators have not yet come to a final conclusion on why the ferry sank. “Leading theories include changes made to increase the ferry's passenger capacity and shifting cargo,” CNN says.
The BBC picks up the story:
Prosecutors are said to be investigating whether modifications made to the ferry made it more unstable. Factors under consideration include a turn made around the time the ship began to list, as well as wind, ocean currents and the freight it was carrying.
Reports have emerged indicating that the ship's sleeping cabins were refitted sometime between 2012 and 2013, which experts say may have inadvertently affected the balance of the boat. Investigators on Friday said that life rafts and escape chutes on a sister ship to a sunken ferry were not working properly.
The ferry's captain and 10 crew members have been arrested on charges ranging from criminal negligence to abandoning passengers.Prosecutors have also raided several businesses affiliated with the ferry operator, the Chonghaejin Marine Company, as part of an overall probe into corrupt management.
President Barack Obama visited Seoul and expressed his condolences for the “incredible loss” of life. “So many were young students with their entire lives ahead of them. I can only imagine what the parents are going through at the moment – the incredible heartache,” Obama said.