Ferry sinking: Toll rises as divers find way into hull

Transcript shows ship frustrated with time it took for coast guard to arrive - report.

After more than three days of frustration and failure, divers finally found a way into a submerged ferry off South Korea's southern shore, discovering more than a dozen bodies inside the ship and pushing the confirmed death toll to 52.

More than 250 people are still missing, most of them high school students on a holiday trip, and anguished families are furious with the pace of rescue efforts. Divers had previously failed to enter the ferry, officials said, because of strong currents and bad visibility. They have yet to find any survivors in the ship.

The penetration by divers into the ferry follows the arrest of the captain on suspicion of negligence and abandoning people in need. Two crew members also were taken into custody, including a rookie third mate who a prosecutor said was steering in challenging waters unfamiliar to her when the accident occurred.

Beginning on Saturday, when divers broke a window multiple teams of divers have found various routes into the ferry, discovering bodies in different spots, coast guard official Koh Myung Seok said.

Thirteen bodies have been found in the ship, while six bodies were found floating outside.

A 21-year-old South Korean sailor also died from injuries he sustained last Wednesday while working on a warship going to help rescue passengers in the ferry.

On an island near the submerged ferry, about 200 police blocked about 100 relatives of missing passengers who'd been walking on a main road in an effort, they said, to travel to the presidential Blue House in Seoul to voice their complaints to the President.

"The government is the killer," they shouted as they pushed against a police barricade.

The ferry's captain, Lee Joon Seok, 68, was arrested with one of three helmsmen and the 25-year-old third mate, prosecutors said. Lee, speaking as he left the Mokpo Branch of Gwangju District Court to be jailed, defended his decision to wait about 30 minutes before ordering an evacuation. "At the time, the current was very strong, the temperature of the ocean water was cold, and I thought that if people left the ferry without [proper] judgment, if they were not wearing a life jacket, and even if they were, they would drift away and face many other difficulties. The rescue boats had not arrived yet, nor were there any civilian fishing ships or other boats nearby at that time."

Last night the Washington Post reported that a transcript between the Sewol and a rescue operator suggested the ship was frustrated with the time it took for the coast guard to arrive. The Sewol twice asked if passengers would be rescued immediately if they evacuated. Both times the ship's officials were told the coast guard was still on its way. The ferry officials said 42 minutes after the distress call that those who could evacuate were trying to do so.

Lee admitted he was on his way back from his bedroom when the accident happened.

Lee's decision to step away from the bridge was the first of a chain of calamitous errors.

The third mate, Park Hyun Kul, had only been at sea for roughly a year.

A senior prosecutor working on the case, Yang Jung Jin, told reporters she had never navigated the cluster of islands on the southern tip of the Korean Peninsula before, but had taken the wheel because the ship's delayed departure had thrown the duty roster out of kilter.

While the ferry was travelling at 18 knots Park's sharp left turn has been confirmed by coastguards as the cause of the disaster. Investigators have raised the possibility that as the ship swerved, the 180 cars and 1100 tonnes of shipping containers in its hold fell to one side, causing it to tilt irretrievably.

Park was silent as she was led to jail in handcuffs, with Lee and coxswain Cho Joon Ki, 55. Lee, his eyes lowered to the ground under a black hooded jacket, made a trembling apology. "I understand there are some things that are my fault. I am sorry I caused the trouble. I apologise to all Koreans and especially I bow my head in apology to the family of the victims." The three crew members face five charges including negligence and violation of South Korea's seafarer's law, which required the captain to take every action possible to protect his passengers and ship.

- Telegraph Group Ltd

- Daily Telegraph UK

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