current affairs

What went wrong aboard the South Korean ferry

Horrific images reached us from South Korea this week, along with reports of a ferry sinking 15 miles off the coast of the country.

Horrific images reached us from South Korea this week, along with reports of a ferry sinking 15 miles off the coast of the country. There were roughly 475 people aboard the ferry and, most shockingly, the majority of them were young school children.

Over 24 hours after rescue teams were first sent out to the site, nine people were confirmed dead, and a further 287 people were still missing.

The ferry was transporting passengers from the mainland to South Korea’s well-known Jeju Island, a prime holiday destination due to its many natural wonders and beautiful landscape. April to June is the prime time for school trips to the island, and the ferry was estimated to be carrying around 300 students from the same school for just such a trip.

Rescue teams are working around the clock, diving to the sunken ferry to search for any remaining survivors, but this is little consolation for the angry families waiting for some kind of explanation. Even worse, new evidence emerged yesterday to show that the captain and crew of the boat are potentially to blame for the loss of so many young lives.

What happened?

There is still no conclusive explanation as to what happened to the ferry in order to cause it to sink so alarmingly fast. Some reports suggested that the ferry had veered off track, but this was quickly quashed by the South Korean Oceans and Fishing Ministry.

Survivors report hearing a loud thud, and feeling the ship immediately tilt to one side, suggesting that the ferry hit something on the sea bed. However, it is still unknown whether the sinking could have been prevented, or whether this is just a tragic accident.

Miracle survival

Families of those still missing have been told not to give up hope, although finding survivors at this stage is highly unlikely. The ferry was quickly lost, meaning that the majority of the vessel has been underwater for close to two days, and the water temperatures were icy cold.

Divers and marine scientists participating in the rescue have said that it is possible that some of the remaining passengers have managed to survive in air pockets on the ship, but these would be rare and isolated areas of air, and those trapped in them would still be affected by the freezing temperature below sea level.

Who to blame?

Distraught parents and families were furious yesterday as the rescue mission was forced to take a break due to bad weather, but their anger became even greater as new reports emerged blaming the captain and his crew for the devastating outcome of the sinking.

The 60 year old captain and six of his crew were among the first to leave the sinking vessel, managing to escape just 40 minutes after the ship first went into distress. They left behind the 300 or so young children, saving themselves first, and without issuing clear instructions to the remainder of the crew. Rescue teams also confirmed that only one of the ship’s twelve life boats had been deployed.

All of the surviving students have so far told the same story, of mixed messages and a confusing survival strategy. Some were told by crew “Don’t move,” while others were told to jump into the ocean and wait to be rescued. All of those who have been rescued so far made their own choice to jump off the vessel and wait to be pulled aboard one of the rescue ships.

One surviving student filmed this harrowing video on his phone and later uploaded it to the Internet, to show that many of the young students still trapped in the ship were doing as they were told and staying put. They are all shown to be wearing life jackets, but are clearly terrified and texting and calling their confused parents.

One survivor said there was plenty of time for everyone to be evacuated from the ship, but instead they were told not to move, and the children did as they were told. But once the water started flooding in, everyone panicked and started running around, bumping into things and getting injured. It was too late for them to escape the ship.

Apologies still not enough

Captain of the ship Lee Joon Suk broke down in tears when interviewed, saying “I am so sorry, I am lost for words.” He hid his face in a grey hoodie, as he now faces charges of abandonment and accidental homicide.

The President of the ferry company was on his way to meet families and support the rescue, but was taken to hospital after collapsing from the shock of the whole situation.

Understandably, the remaining families are demanding answers and explanations, as well as praying for the safe return of their loved ones and children, while the relatives of those already found dead are beginning to grieve. Such a tragedy is inexplicable, and it seems that the death count will continue to swiftly rise.

Sadly, there will be little closure for the families of those precious children and the other passengers aboard, particularly as it now seems clear that so much more could have been done to evacuate the ship correctly and save many more lives.

What do you think? Have your say in the comments section below.