South Korea ferry disaster

Angry relatives hold South Korean ferry tragedy officials captive

Confirmed death toll reaches 181 as relatives express frustration and fury at officials over the slow pace of the sunken ferry recovery operation

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 April, 2014, 12:00pm
UPDATED : Friday, 25 April, 2014, 11:27pm

Frustrated relatives of the scores of people still missing from the sinking of the ferry Sewol held South Korea's fisheries minister and coast guard chief overnight, angry about the pace of divers who have recovered 183 bodies but have nearly 120 left to find in the dark of the submerged vessel.

Scrutiny about the wreck's cause, meanwhile, has turned to what the ferry was carrying: more than 3,600 tonnes of cargo, according to the company that loaded it. An inspector who examined the vessel during a redesign said it could safely handle only 1,000 tonnes of cargo and passengers, and needed more than 2,000 tonnes of water as ballast to ensure it remained balanced.

A naval architecture expert said the reported load could have set the ship tipping over with a significant turn. Tracking data show that the ship turned 45 degrees before sinking, and crew members have reportedly said that they had tried to make a much less severe turn.

"The ship would suddenly fall even with just a small turn. It should not make a sharp turn," said Lee Kyu Yeul, professor emeritus in ship and offshore plant design at Seoul National University's Department of Naval Architecture and Ocean Engineering. "It should make a huge circle with one or two degrees of turn, but it made a small circle. So it fell."

On Jindo island, where families have been waiting for more than a week for word of their loved ones, Oceans and Fisheries Minister Lee Ju-young, coast guard chief Kim Seok-kyun and deputy chief Choi Sang-hwan yesterday morning were able to leave the tent where the families had kept them.

The tent is where officials post information about the newly recovered dead.

Dozens crowded around the grim-faced officials, who sat on the ground and tried to explain the search efforts. One man threatened to punch reporters gathered near the tent. Relatives occasionally shouted, accusing the officials of lying.

"We are doing our work and we, too, feel the way you do," Kim said.

The ferry sank on April 16 on its way from Incheon port to the southern tourist island of Jeju. Most of the 302 dead and missing are students from a single high school in Ansan, south of Seoul.