Death Toll Rises, Hopes Fade At Site Of Korean Ferry Disaster
by: Mark Memmott, NPR, April 23, 2014 8:04:00 am
The already slim chance that anyone might still be alive aboard the South Korean ferry that sunk a week ago was all but extinguished Wednesday with the news that divers have found no air pockets in key areas of the ship.
That word came as the number of bodies recovered from the Sewol edged above 150. As of mid-afternoon Wednesday in South Korea, "152 people had been confirmed dead while 150 others remained missing," Yonhap News reports. The water where the ship went down just off the southern coast of South Korea is said to be about 160 feet deep.
More than 320 of the estimated 476 people who were on board when the ferry capsized and sank were students from a high school in Ansan, near Seoul, who were traveling to a resort island. Most of the 300 or so people who likely died were teenagers. Officials have said that 174 people were rescued before the ferry flipped over.
"Divers have found no air pockets on the third and fourth floors of the sunken ferry Sewol, South Korean authorities said Wednesday. ... Searchers had been focusing on the third and fourth levels of the five-floor vessel, as they believed many of those still missing were likely to be there. Most passenger bedrooms are on the fourth level of the now upended ship."
Yonhap News adds that "divers successfully entered a third-deck cafeteria, where most of the students are believed to have been located at the time of the accident .... but did not find anyone, officials said."
In related news, "authorities have arrested four more crew members from the ferry" the BBC writes. "Twenty-two of the 29 members of the ferry's crew survived and prosecutors say the 11 arrested were on the bridge when the ship listed and sank within two hours of distress signals being sent." It's been reported that the captain initially told passengers to remain in their cabins or below decks, and didn't issue an order to evacuate for at least 30 minutes.
Also, police "raided offices of the operator of [the] sunken ferry, its affiliates and a related organization Wednesday as part of a widening probe into the cause of the disaster," Yonhap News says. "Investigators of the Incheon District Prosecutors' Office raided Cheonghaejin Marine Co, the Sewol's operator based in the coastal city, just west of Seoul, as well as some 20 offices of its affiliates and a religious group in Seoul believed to be related to the owner family."
"The focus of the probe will be to see if the owner's family has accumulated huge wealth by embezzling corporate funds while failing to fulfill its duty of properly managing the companies," a prosecutor told Yonhap. "Tracing their hidden assets is also needed to pay damages to the victims and their families."