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South Korea: Death toll rises from sinking ferry

South Korean ferry rescue workers can't reach trapped bodies
South Korean ferry rescue workers can't reach trapped bodies
Chung Sung-Jun Getty Images

As if the news wasn't horrible enough that 36 people have been confirmed dead today Saturday, April 19, after a a South Korean ferry sank. According to news reports out of South Korea the operator has had prior issues.

According to USA Today, more than 270 people are missing after the ferry sank just a few miles off the shores of southern South Korea. Multiple rescue divers were dispatched today to search for missing people. Rescuers are reporting they can see the bodies inside, but with the rough waters and horrible weather they can’t get to them.

So far reports indicate 476 people were on board when problems arose, but only 174 have survived. Allegedly, the accident may have been avoided if the vessel had not been speeding in a cautionary area, and passengers were given enough time to get off. A senior prosecutor, Ynag Jung-jin, told the Associated Press two crew members neglected to lower speeds, as reported by the LA Times.

Capt. Lee Joon-seok was arrested Friday for "abandoning passengers" and for other charges. Also taken into custody was a "third mate", and a helmsman, according to a recent Time's report. "Charges against Lee include not making efforts to safely evacuate passengers and eventually causing their death," said another prosecutor investigating the deadly incident. However, other reports indicate the captain didn't want passengers to get into the frigid waters without rescue ships available, believing it would be safer for passengers to wait.

Another charge the captain is being held for is violating maritime law. Apparently under this law he should’ve been on the bridge of the ferry when it was passing through the tight channel. In fact, this isn’t the first time the operator, Chonghaejin Marine Co., has had issues. According to USA today, “three weeks before the Sewol’s sinking, one of their passenger ships collided with a fishing boat in the Yellow Sea.”

Many of those missing are high school students, which are believed to still be inside the capsized ferry in South Korea. According to an article published in The Guardian, by Justin McCurry, a few survivors told investigators it took about 30 minutes before they were given orders to abandon ship.