Divers' hunt resumes for bodies inside sunken ferry

Updated: 2014-04-29 08:59

By Associated Press in Jindo, South Korea (China Daily)

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Investigators seek recorded pleas to coastal authorities made by victims

Divers in South Korea on Monday renewed their search for more than 100 bodies still trapped in a sunken ferry after weekend efforts were hindered by bad weather, strong currents and floating debris.

Investigators, meanwhile, expanded a probe into how the Coast Guard and other rescuers responded after learning the ferry was sinking.

Divers found only one body on Sunday after a week that saw an increasing number of corpses pulled from the Sewol as divers made their way through its labyrinth of cabins, lounges and halls.

The number of dead from the April 16 sinking is 188, with 114 believed missing, although a government emergency task force has said the ship's passengers list could be inaccurate. A total of 174 people survived, including 22 of the 29 crew members.

Senior Coast Guard officer Kim Su-hyeon said most of the remaining missing passengers are believed to be in 64 of the vessel's 111 rooms. Divers have entered 36 of the 64 rooms, Coast Guard officers said, but they may need to return to some because floating debris made it difficult for them to be sure that there were no more bodies.

Ko Myung-seok, an official with the emergency task force, said on Monday that 92 divers were searching the ferry. He said the government was making plans to salvage the vessel once search efforts end but that details would not be available until officials talk to victims' families.

On Sunday, South Korea's prime minister resigned over the government's handling of the sinking, blaming "deep-rooted evils" in society for the tragedy.

The country's executive power is largely concentrated on the president, so Chung Hong-won's resignation appears to be symbolic. Presidential spokesman Min Kyung-wook said President Park Geun-hye would accept the resignation, but did not say when Chung would leave office.

Chung's resignation comes amid rising indignation over claims by the victims' relatives that the government did not do enough to rescue or protect their loved ones. Most of the dead and missing were high school students on a school trip.

Investigators have searched the two service centers that deal with marine traffic and that communicated with a crew member on the ferry during the sinking.

Senior prosecutor Ahn Sang-don told reporters that prosecutors also seized documents and recordings from a Coast Guard office in Mokpo, and would do the same at an emergency call service center that received a call from a student on the ship reporting the sinking.

The emergency service center official connected a Coast Guard official with the student, who local media reports said was later found dead.

Ahn said prosecutors questioned the captain, the third mate and the helmsman, who were on the bridge when the ship began listing, as well as another captain of the ferry who was on vacation on the day of the accident.

Prosecutors also plan to question officials from the company that maintained and inspected the ferry's life rafts and safety facilities. Ahn said prosecutors will focus their investigations on other factors that could have affected the ship's sinking, including cargo stowage and an earlier remodeling of the vessel.

Ahn said that while all 15 crew members responsible for the ship's navigation have been arrested, they haven't been formally charged because investigations are continuing. The seven surviving crew members who have not been arrested held non-marine jobs such as chef or steward.

(China Daily 04/29/2014 page11)