JINDO/MOKPO: A newly released transcript form stricken South Korean ferry that sank last week shows the confusion that ensued in the half hour between the first distress call and the evacuation of the ship.
The transcript shows that a crew member repeatedly asked Vessel Traffic Services Center (VTS), in Jindo, South Korea, whether passengers would be rescued if they abandoned the sinking ferry Sewol.
But that followed several statements from the ship that it was impossible for people aboard to even move, and another in which it said it was “impossible to broadcast” instructions.
At 09:24 – 29 minutes after the Sewol issued its first distress call – a controller says: “Please go out and let the passengers wear life jackets and put on more clothing.”
The unidentified crew member says: “If this ferry evacuates passengers, will you be able to rescue them?”
“At least make them wear life rings and make them escape,” the controller from the Jindo Vessel Traffic Services Centre replies.
As he continues to urge the crew to prepare for evacuation, the crew member twice asks if passengers would be “rescued straight away”.
It was not until 09:37 – a few seconds before the last communication – that it became clear to controllers that evacuation had been ordered.
The initial delay in getting all 476 passengers, including 350 high school pupils and their teachers, off the ship made the task far harder.
Officers on the bridge of the Sewol, which lies submerged in water off the south-west coast of South Korea, had already indicated that once the vessel was tilting heavily to one side, passengers increasingly found themselves unable to move.
Captain and crew’s detention
Prosecutors investigating the disaster said on Sunday they wanted to extend the detention of the captain and two other crew as they try to determine the cause of an accident
In the newly released transcript, a crew member repeatedly asks if there were vessels on hand to rescue passengers if evacuation was ordered.
On Saturday the captain, Lee Joon-seok, appeared on TV saying: “I bow my head in apology to the families of the victims.
“The current was very strong, the temperature of the ocean water was cold, and I thought that if people left the ferry without proper judgement, if they were not wearing a life jacket, and even if they were, they would drift away and face many other difficulties.”