South Korea ferry: Death toll passes 100 as evidence shows ship did not turn sharply

Full data shows ship, with inexperienced third mate at helm, made J-shaped turn before it started listing

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The Independent Online

The death toll from the ferry which sank off the coast of South Korea last week has officially passed 100 for the first time, as new evidence emerged showing it did not turn sharply before capsizing.

The Sewol, which was carrying 476 people, had an inexperienced third mate at the helm at the time of the disaster. On Friday, a government official said data appeared to show that the vessel had made an abrupt turn just before it started listing dangerously.

Yet analysis of the full data from an on-board transponder used for tracking has now shown that the ship in fact made a much more gradual, J-shaped turn before it sank. Today the ministry of ocean and fisheries said its previous data had been incomplete.

At least 104 bodies have now been retrieved from the wreckage of the ferry, but more than 300 are either missing or dead - many teenage pupils from the same high school.

The cause of the disaster is not yet known. Officials said the third mate, who has been arrested, was steering in a challenging area where she had not steered before, and the captain said he was not on the bridge at the time.

Crew committed 'unforgivable, murderous acts,' says President

Families who once dreamed of miraculous rescues now simply hope their loved ones' remains are recovered soon, before the ocean does much more damage.

After the bodies are pulled from the water, police and doctors look for forms of ID and take notes on the body's appearance, clothing and any identifying physical marks.

The bodies are transported to Jindo island, about an hour's boat ride away, as rescuers notify families waiting at the port, or at a gymnasium where many are sheltering. Bodies without IDs are described to officials in Jindo who relay the details to the relatives.

The families, and South Koreans more broadly, have at times responded with fury. The captain initially told passengers to stay in their rooms and waited more than half an hour to issue an evacuation order as the Sewol sank. By then, the ship had tilted so much it is believed that many passengers were trapped inside.

At a cabinet briefing, President Park Geun-hye said: "What the captain and part of the crew did is unfathomable from the viewpoint of common sense. Unforgivable, murderous behaviour."

 Emergency task force spokesman Koh Myung-seok said bodies were mostly found on the third and fourth floor of the ferries, where many passengers seemed to have gathered. Many students were also in cabins on the fourth floor, near the stern of the ship.

A high proportion of the bodies found have been recovered since the weekend when divers, frustrated for days by strong currents and bad weather, were finally able to enter the ferry. But conditions remain challenging.

"I cannot see anything in front ... and the current underwater is too fast," said Choi Jin-ho, a professional diver who searched the ferry. "Then breathing gets faster and panic comes."

Korea-dead-2-AFP.jpgSearchers yesterday deployed a remote-controlled underwater camera to explore the inside of the ferry. Unlike divers who have to surface after 20 minutes, the US-built camera can be used for two to three hours.

A ministry official, speaking today about the turn made before the ferry sank, provided a map that showed both the hard 115-degree turn originally estimated and the more gradual path the restored data describes.

Senior prosecutor Ahn Song-don said the third mate told investigators why she made the turn, but would not reveal her answer to reporters, saying more investigation was needed.

Additional reporting by PA