Distressing footage has emerged, apparently showing passengers waiting to be rescued
Distressing footage has emerged, apparently showing passengers waiting to be rescued
Distressing footage has emerged, apparently showing passengers waiting to be rescued
Distressing footage has emerged, apparently showing passengers waiting to be rescued

Emergency services are continuing to search overnight for almost 300 people missing after a ferry carrying 462 people sank off South Korea.

Officials say 174 people were rescued from the ship, which was travelling from Incheon Port, in the north-west, to the southern resort island of Jeju.

Emergency teams have been using floodlights and flares to search the vessel for passengers into the night.

At least six people are thought to have died, with dozens more injured.

South Korean TV networks are constantly replaying dramatic footage of the rescue efforts. It shows an armada of small boats motoring right up beside the ferry, which listed heavily on its side before sinking.

What makes this accident even more distressing is the fact that among those on board were high school students on a trip to a holiday island.

Relatives and friends of those on board are posting on social media sites asking for any news or information about loved ones.

It is not yet clear what caused the ship to list at a severe angle and flip over, leaving only a small part of its hull visible above water.

Rescue efforts are concentrated on the ship’s wreckage, which sank in 30 metres of water. Many passengers are thought to be trapped inside.

Strong currents

The country’s prime minister, Chung Hong-won, has warned there is not “a minute or a second to waste” in the search for survivors, urging those involved to do their utmost to save more lives.

But officials say the rescue operation involving coast guard, military and commercial vessels has been hampered by poor visibility and strong currents.

“There is so much mud in the sea water and the visibility is very low,” said Lee Gyeong-og, vice-minister of security and public administration.

The US Navy has sent an amphibious assault ship, the USS Bonhomme Richard, to assist with the search.

Navy divers have managed to enter three compartments of the ship but have not yet found any bodies.

MV Sewol

  • Passengers on board: 459
  • Maximum capacity: 900
  • Length: 146 metres
  • Built: 1994

map wto

Flares light up the sky as the search for missing passengers continues through the night
Flares light up the sky as the search for missing passengers continues through the night

A coast guard official told Reuters that divers were later prevented from entering the submerged ship for several hours due to strong tides.

Rain, strong winds and fog are forecast for Thursday, and may hamper further rescue efforts, the news agency adds.

‘Shaking and tilting’

Relatives of the missing have gathered in the town of Jindo, near to where ferry capsized, awaiting news of their loved ones.

Many of the passengers on board the ship were school students and teachers from the same school near the capital, Seoul, heading on a field trip to Jeju island.

The ferry sent a distress call at around 09:00 local time (00:00 GMT) on Wednesday after it began to shake and take on water, about 20km (12 miles) off the island of Byungpoong.

Military and civilian ships and helicopters have been searching for survivors
Military and civilian ships and helicopters have been searching for survivors

Survivors say they heard a loud thud, before the boat began to shake and tilt.

Some of the passengers managed to jump into the ocean, wearing life jackets and swim to nearby rescue boats and commercial vessels.

One student told local media they were instructed not to move as it was dangerous.

“I am told that my friends and other friends could not escape as the passage was blocked. It seems that there are many students who could not get out as the passage was blocked by water,” the unnamed student said.

Another passenger said the ship was “shaking and tilting”, with people tripping and bumping into each other.

Major maritime accidents in South Korea

  • 1970: Sinking of passenger vessel Namyoung leaves 323 dead
  • 1993: Sinking of passenger vessel Seohae Ferry leaves 292 dead
  • 2007: Sinking of freighter Eastern Bright leaving 14 sailors missing
  • 2009: Sinking of cargo ship Orchid Pia after a collision leaves 16 sailors missing

Source: Yonhap

Among the confirmed dead was a female member of crew and a male high school student, who died after being rescued.

Local TV stations broadcast footage of the ferry listing and later sinking, within two hours of sending a distress signal.

Images showed rescue teams pulling teenagers from cabin windows, as some of their classmates jumped into the sea.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye has expressed sadness over the incident, saying it was “truly tragic” that students on a field trip were involved in “such an unfortunate accident”.

Kim Young-boong, an official from the company which owns the ferry, has apologised.

“I would like to say sorry to the passengers, which include a number of students and their parents, and promise that our company will do its best to minimise loss of life. We are sorry,” he said, according to the AP news agency.

“We will try to determine the cause of the accident after rescue operations are over,” Lee Gyeong-og said.

Survivor: "There was an announcement telling us to sit still, but the ferry was already sinking"
Survivor: “There was an announcement telling us to sit still, but the ferry was already sinking”

As the disaster unfolded on Wednesday, there were conflicting accounts of the number of people rescued. Early reports suggested over 300 people had been plucked to safety but South Korean officials later revised this down to 174.

The vessel – named Sewol – is reported to have a capacity of up to 900 people and is 146 metres long.

Mr Lee was quoted by the AP news agency as saying that 30 crew members, 325 high school students, 15 school teachers and 89 non-student passengers were aboard the ship.

Correspondents say this could turn out to be South Korea’s biggest maritime disaster for more than 20 years

Source BBC

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