SEOUL — A boy and girl trapped in a sinking South Korean ferry with hundreds of other high school students tied their life jacket cords together, according to a diver who recovered their bodies, presumably so they wouldn’t float apart.
The diver had to separate the two because he could not carry two corpses up to the surface at the same time.
The diver to the Kyunghyang Shinmun newspaper Thursday:
“I started to cry thinking that they didn’t want to leave each other.”
The parents of the boy whose shaking voice raised the alarm that the overloaded ferry was sinking believe his body has also been found, according to the South Korea Coast Guard.
The parents saw his body and clothes and concluded he was their son, but he has not been formally identified.
More than 300 people, most of them students and teachers from the Danwon High School, are dead or missing after the April 16 sinking. The confirmed death toll on Thursday was 171.
The Sewol ferry, weighing almost 7,000 tons, sank on a routine trip from the post of Incheon, near Seoul, to the southern holiday island of Jeju. Investigators are calling the ferry sinking a result of human error and mechanical failure.
Prosecutors raided two shipping watchdogs, the Korean Shipping Association and the Korean Register of Shipping, as part of their expanded investigation into the disaster. They would investigate whether ship safety certificates were in order, according to the Yonhap news agency.
Song In-taek, head deputy chief prosecutor at Incheon District Prosecutor Service to reporters:
“The objective was to investigate malpractices and corruption in the entire shipping industry.”
Prosecutors have also raided the home of Yoo Byung-un, the head of the family that owns the Chonghaejin Marine Company, the operators of the Sewol. They also seized another ferry run by the same company to check for safety.
The family would take “all legal and social responsibility for this tragic accident if they have to as major stakeholders of the company” according to a lawyer for the family.
Of the 476 passengers and crew on board the Sewol, 339 were children and teachers from the school in Ansan, a suburb on the outskirts of Seoul, who were on an outing to Jeju.
As the ferry began sinking, the crew told the children to stay in their cabins. Most of those who obeyed died. Many of those who didn’t obey were rescued.
Classes at the school resumed on Thursday with banks of flowers surrounding photos of each of the victims, dressed in their school uniforms. Almost 250 students and staff at the school have died or are presumed dead.
Fellow students filed past, offering white chrysanthemums in somber tributes. Yellow ribbons, with names and messages inscribed, were tied around a chain-link fence.
First Distress Call
In the classrooms of the missing, friends posted messages on desks, blackboards and windows, in the days after disaster struck, asking for the safe return of their friends.
“If I see you again, I’ll tell you I love you, because I haven’t said it to you enough.”
The school provided therapy sessions for the children as they returned.
The first distress call from the sinking vessel was made by a boy with a shaking voice, three minutes after the vessel’s last turn, according to a fire service officer.
The boy called the emergency 119 number which put him through to the fire service, which in turn forwarded him to the coastguard two minutes later. That was followed by about 20 other calls from children on board the ship to the emergency number.
The ship, 479 feet (146 meters) long and 22 meters (72.1 feet), was over three times overloaded, according to official recommendations, with cargo poorly stowed and inadequate ballast.
There were 105 containers onboard, according to Moon Ki-han, an executive at Uryeon (Union Transport Co.), the firm that supervised cargo loading.
Fourty-five were loaded on the front deck and 60 into the lower decks, according to Moon.
In total, the ship was carrying 3,600 metric tons of cargo including containers, vehicles and other goods, according to Moon.
The Korean Register of Shipping recommended a load of 987 tons for the Sewol, according to a member of parliament.
Captain Lee Joon-seok, 69, and other crew members who abandoned ship have been arrested on negligence charges. Lee was also charged with undertaking an “excessive change of action without slowing down.”
Seven crew members were “under command” to abandon ship, according to one crew member.
The unidentified crew member was hidden behind a surgical mask and was wearing a baseball cap with a jacket hood during a brief statement with reporters on the way back to detention from court. She did not elaborate.
Another crew member was asked if there was any discussion about trying to save the passengers.
The crew member, in response:
“At that moment, we were on the third floor and except for the third floor situation, we weren’t aware of anything else.”