Ahad, 27 April 2014

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South Korean PM resigns over ferry disaster

Posted: 26 Apr 2014 08:30 PM PDT

JINDO, South Korea, April 27, 2014 (AFP) - South Korea's prime minister resigned Sunday over the sinking of a passenger ferry that left more than 300 people dead or missing, amid huge public anger over what is seen as a bungled response to the tragedy.

Chung Hong-Won admitted he had not been up to the task of overseeing rescue operations after the Sewol capsized with 476 people - many of them schoolchildren - on board.

"I offer my apology for having been unable to prevent this accident from happening and unable to properly respond to it afterwards," he said.

"I believed I, as the prime minister, certainly had to take responsibility and resign."

Parents and relatives of the missing and the dead have blasted the response to the sinking, saying the rescue operation was too slow to swing into action, possibly costing lives.

There has also been rage over perceived corruption and lax safety standards that may have led to the disaster, with claims that the ferry was overloaded and the passenger list was inaccurate and incomplete.

"The latest accident left all South Koreans in great shock and sorrow. (Many) days have passed since the accident, but the screams of families of the missing still keep me up at night," Chung told a nationally-televised press conference.

"I sincerely hope that South Koreans and families of the Sewol victims will forgive and understand me for being unable to fulfil my obligations until the end. I beg you once again to rally support (for rescue operations)." 

Grim search for bodies

The confirmed death toll from the tragedy stood Sunday at 187, with 115 unaccounted for, their bodies believed trapped in the sunken vessel.

Divers were battling decompression sickness and atrocious weather in their grim search for corpses.

Further complicating their efforts was the increasing depth of the wreck as it sinks slowly into the silt of the seabed, making an already dangerous diving operation even more hazardous.

Despite waves up to three metres (nine feet) tall and near gale-force winds, teams were still trying to search the ferry.

A coastguard spokesman said 98 frogmen would be trying to get into rooms on the fourth deck of the 6,825 tonne Sewol, but he warned the worsening conditions were making things hard.

"A growing number of divers are reporting decompression sickness," he said. "We are trying our best to make progress in these difficult weather conditions."

"As the ship has sunk further... the diving depth also increased to more than 40 metres (130 feet), posing even more difficulties for search efforts."

Pressure rises as divers go deeper, increasing the amount of air they breathe from their tanks.

This not only reduces dive time, but also heightens levels of nitrogen in their bloodstream, raising the risk of potentially harmful bubbles forming in body tissue. This decompression sickness, which is also known as "the bends", can cause long-term health problems.

Although all hope of finding survivors has been extinguished, there is still anger and deep frustration among relatives of the missing over the pace of the recovery operation.

It took divers two days to get inside the ferry after it sank, and a further two days to bring up the first bodies.

Strong underwater currents, poor visibility and the presence of debris makes the operation as difficult as it is harrowing.

One room they were able to access earlier in the week contained the bodies of 48 young students, all wearing life jackets. 

All crew in custody

On the surface, recriminations continue, with four more of the ship's crew arrested on Saturday.

Their arrests mean all 15 surviving crew members responsible for sailing the vessel were in custody, facing charges ranging from criminal negligence to abandoning passengers.

Prosecutors have also raided a host of businesses affiliated with the ferry operator, the Chonghaejin Marine Company, as part of an overall probe into corrupt management.

The widening investigation has seen travel bans put on eight current and former executives of the Korea Register of Shipping - the body responsible for issuing marine safety certificates.

Around a quarter of the dead recovered so far have been found in waters outside the sunken vessel, and there are fears that some of the missing may have drifted free from the wreck.

Authorities have installed 13-kilometre-long (eight-mile-long) nets anchored to the seabed across the Maenggol sea channel to prevent the dead being swept into the open ocean.

Dozens of other vessels and helicopters have been scouring the site and beyond, with the search operation expanded up to 60 kilometres from the scene of the disaster, while coastal areas and nearby islands will also be searched. - AFP

Volunteers share pain in Jindo

Posted: 26 Apr 2014 09:00 AM PDT

As grief over the sinking of the ill-fated ferry spreads across South Korea, people have been asking how they can help.

SEOUL: Jindo Island is being flooded with thousands of volunteers from across the country who have come to hold the hands, wipe the tears and share the pain of families still waiting for signs of their loved ones.

From college students and parents to foreign residents, volunteers have set up kitchens, supply centres and clinics outside of Jindo Gymnasium, which is serving as a shelter for the families, and at Paengmok Port, where they are waiting for the bodies of the victims.

Others have been washing dishes, cleaning bathrooms and delivering fresh water for the families exhausted from the endless waiting.

At the gym, others hold up pieces of paper asking whether they have clothes to be washed or carry bananas and packs of milk to feed family members who have hardly eaten out of despair.

Volunteers silently move around, making their best efforts not to disturb the grief-stricken families. Authorities say more than 12,000 people have worked as volunteers in the town over the last eight days.

"I have a daughter who is also 17 years old, the same as their daughters are … I just wanted to be here … which is the least I could do for them," said a woman interviewed by YTN, a local cable news channel.

Hopes are fading for a miracle as rescuers have not found a single survivor since the day the ill-fated ferry Sewol sank on April 16.

Divers have yet to find an air pocket on the third or fourth deck, where most of the passenger bedrooms and the ship's restaurant are located.

As of Thursday afternoon, divers had retrieved 171 bodies, with 131 still missing.

As grief over the sinking has spread across the country, people have been sending supplies and asking how they can help.

Boxes full of supplies such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, paper cups and even clean underwear have reached the town from students across the country, along with handwritten letters praying for their safe return.

Foreign volunteers have also arrived at the seaside town.

A group of 11 Turks living in Korea had set up a kebab kitchen in front of Jindo Gymnasium on Thursday.

"We pray for the Sewol victims and for the safe return of the missing. From Turkey, your brother country," said a banner put up around the kitchen.

The Turkish volunteers said they wanted to stand by people suffering from the excruciating pain of losing family members in return for the compassion that Koreans showed back in 1999, when Turkey suffered from a deadly earthquake.

"Our families and friends in Turkey have been paying close attention to the sinking of the ferry Sewol," one Turkish volunteer was quoted as saying by Newsis, a local news agency.

"I hope the families of the victims have not given up yet with this piece of kebab we prepared. We wish for a miracle to happen," he said.

ferry disaster the result of poor safety practices

Posted: 26 Apr 2014 09:00 AM PDT

TOKYO: The sinking of a South Korean ferry was a major disaster caused by inadequate safety awareness on the part of the company operating the vessel, its captain and his crew, in combination with their poor and unskilled response to the emergency.

More than a week has passed since the ferry Sewol sank in waters off Jindo, in southwestern South Korea. The confirmed death toll from the tragedy has exceeded 100. Rescuers are continuing a desperate search for close to 200 people who are still missing.

Many of the ferry's passengers were students on a high school trip. Those close to the victims must, while stricken with grief, identify the bodies as they are recovered one after another from inside the ship.

One can hardly imagine the depth of agony currently being experienced by families and friends of those missing, as they maintain faint hopes for a miraculous survival.

The ferry capsized having listed to one side and lost the ability to right itself, following a sharp turn made shortly before the accident.

Because of strong currents, the area of sea surrounding the scene of the disaster was difficult to navigate. However, piloting the ferry at the time of the incident was a rookie third mate unfamiliar with this hazard.

After its purchase from Japan, the ship was refurbished to increase its seating capacity.

Suspicion has arisen that, at the time of the accident, the ferry may have been carrying freight in excess of the cargo weight declared prior to its departure.

There is reason to presume that the ship's sharp turn may have caused its cargo to shift, knocking the vessel off balance and eventually causing it to capsize.

The South Korean authorities need to uncover the whole truth behind this latest disaster. There is no doubt that the inadequacy of the crew's evacuation guidance for their passengers contributed to the massive casualty rate.

The captain and many crew members were rescued from the sinking ship before their passengers. Their only instruction to the passengers was to stay inside their cabins. Also, few lifeboats were used.

These factors suggest most passengers were left behind inside the sinking ferry, a situation that denied them the chance to escape from the vessel.

We believe South Koreans have good reason for their strong condemnation of irresponsible conduct by the caption and his crew.The captain and several crewmen have been arrested on suspicion of neglecting to rescue their passengers.

Some crew members have told investigators that they had not been trained on how to ensure the safety of passengers in the event of an emergency. If the shipping company attached so little importance to its crew's training for evacuation guidance and other emergency measures aimed at securing the safety of passengers, it must be seen as a severe problem.

The administration of South Korean President Park Geun-hye has also drawn fire over this latest catastrophe.

In announcing the number of passengers rescued from the ferry, the authorities changed figures time and again. This, along with insensitive speech and behaviour by some senior government officials, has antagonised the South Korean public.

The South Korean government must be more careful in dealing with the situation. Japan is not exempt from the necessity to implement controls for safety and security.

With the Golden Week tourist season just around the corner, measures currently in place for the safety of domestic transportation facilities must be re-examined.

In the wake of the ferry disaster, the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry has instructed the passenger ship industry to re-confirm the safety of sea routes and procedures for emergency escape from vessels.

We hope those associated with the industry will rigorously inspect all aspects of the precautions adopted by passenger ship operators, looking for any possible deficiencies in their safety procedures.

For their part, individuals should not neglect efforts to protect their own lives when they board passenger ships by taking such steps as locating their life jackets.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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