World / Asia-Pacific

S Korean divers search blindly for bodies

By Lim Chang-won in Jindo, South Korea (China Daily) Updated: 2014-04-23 06:58

The death toll from South Korea's ferry disaster reached well over 100 on Tuesday, as dive teams, under growing pressure from bereaved relatives, accelerated the grim task of recovering hundreds more bodies from the submerged vessel.

Improved weather conditions and calm seas spurred their efforts, but underwater visibility was still very poor, requiring divers to grope their way blindly though the corridors and cabins of the ferry that capsized and sank last Wednesday.

Nearly one week into the rescue and recovery effort in one of South Korea's worst peacetime disasters, close to 200 of the 476 people who were aboard the 6,825-metric-ton Sewol - most of them schoolchildren - are still unaccounted for.

The official death toll stood at 108, with 194 still missing.

The distraught victims' families gathered in the morning at the harbor of Jindo island - not far from the disaster site - awaiting the increasingly frequent arrival of boats with the most recently recovered bodies.

In the initial days after the Sewol capsized, the relatives' anger was focused on the pace of the rescue effort.

With all hope of finding survivors essentially extinguished, anger turned to growing impatience with the effort to locate and retrieve the bodies of those trapped.

'Cold, dark place'

"I just want my son back," said the father of one missing student. "I need to be able to hold him and say goodbye. I can't bear the idea of him in that cold, dark place."

The disaster has profoundly shocked South Korea, a proudly modernized nation that thought it had left behind large-scale accidents of this type.

The sense of national grief has been worsened by an equally deep but largely unfocused anger that has been vented toward pretty much anyone in authority.

Coast Guard officials have been slapped and punched, senior politicians - including the prime minister - pushed and heckled and rescue teams criticized for their slow response.

If there is a chief hate figure, it is the ferry's captain, Lee Joon-seok, who was arrested over the weekend and charged with criminal negligence and abandoning his passengers.

Six members of his crew are also under arrest.

President Park Geun-hye, who faced a hostile crowd when she met relatives on Jindo last week, has described the actions of Lee and his crew as being "tantamount to murder".

Four of the detained crew were paraded - heads bowed and faces hidden - before TV cameras on Tuesday, and asked why only one of the Sewol's 46 life rafts had been deployed.

"We tried to gain access to the rafts but the whole ship was already tilted too much," one of them responded.

(China Daily 04/23/2014 page12)

Trudeau visits Sina Weibo
May gets little gasp as EU extends deadline for sufficient progress in Brexit talks
Ethiopian FM urges strengthened Ethiopia-China ties
Yemen's ex-president Saleh, relatives killed by Houthis
Most Popular
Hot Topics