UPDATE: Hopes dim for 291 missing in Korean ferry sinking; 4 dead

Seoul (Alliance News) - Nearly 300 people were missing and four confirmed dead after a passenger ...

Alliance News 16 April, 2014 | 3:55PM
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Seoul (Alliance News) - Nearly 300 people were missing and four confirmed dead after a passenger ferry sank Wednesday off the southern coast of South Korea as rescue workers said the chances of finding any more survivors were slim.

Water temperatures of 12 degrees and the depth of the water greatly reduced the possibility of recovering any of the passengers still unaccounted for alive, emergency responders were quoted as saying by The Korea Herald newspaper.

Nearly two-thirds of the 459 passengers who had been on board are feared to be trapped inside the now-submerged Sewol ferry, the coast guard said.

A total of 164 people were rescued from the ship off the island of Jindo. Dozens of them were injured, and 291 people remained missing.

Of those on board, 325 were students from a high school in suburban Seoul who were on a trip to the popular resort island of Jeju, about 80 kilometres south of the mainland.

One survivor, Kim Seung Mok, told the YTN cable channel that he worked to rescue his fellow passengers. "The water was coming in so fast, some didn't make it out," he said.

The cause of the sinking was not yet known, but survivors said they heard a loud noise just before the vessel started to tilt.

"I screamed for 30 to 40 minutes in the ferry," one rescued student said. "Things were falling, and people were sliding down the ship."

The crew sent a distress signal at 8:58 am (2358 GMT Tuesday). The coast guard said the ship listed to one side and began taking on water about 20 kilometres from the southern coast. It sank in two hours.

More than 100 ships and planes from the military and coast guard scoured the area where the ferry went down, the Yonhap News Agency reported. Fishing boats also joined the operations, and navy divers were deployed to the wreck.

Strong currents and murky waters, however, were hindering the rescue efforts.

President Park Geun Hye urged rescue workers to hurry as night approached, saying the tragedy had "truly devastated" her.

Four people were confirmed dead. They included a 27-year-old female crew member and two high school students. No details about the identity of the fourth victim were released.

Parents of the schoolchildren assembled at the high school in Ansan or rushed to ports in the south-west.

One rescued student told YTN by telephone that he heard a loud noise that shook the ferry before it stopped and began to tilt.

Several of his classmates lost their footing, said Lim Hyung Min, who donned a life jacket on orders of the crew, jumped overboard and swam quickly to a nearby rescue boat.

"The water was so cold, and I wanted to live," he told YTN.

"The waves were calm when the ferry set off," a middle-aged man in hospital told the state broadcaster Arirang. "Then, all of a sudden, the ship felt like it flipped on its side violently. People were cornered, and they couldn't get out of their cabins because they couldn't open the doors."

The ferry was sailing from the north-western port of Inchon to Jeju when it sank. The broadcaster KBS cited a coast guard official as saying that the ferry possibly was not following the normal route to Jeju.

One theory put forward about the cause of the accident was that it hit a submerged rock.

"If it struck a reef, it is likely the ship got off course," Min Hong Ki, head of the Korea Marine Officers Association, told Arirang. "As the vessel was tilting to one side, it is possible its windows were stuck or there were problems with its doors, and passengers could have failed to get out."

The Sewol, built in 1994, had capacity to carry more than 900 passengers and 130 cars. The 6,835-ton ship is 146 metres long and 22 metres wide.

Copyright dpa

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