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Concerns grow over loss of ferry victims’ bodies

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Published : 2014-05-02 21:23
Updated : 2014-05-02 21:23

British Ambassador Scott Wightman writes a condolence message at a memorial altar set up in Seoul Plaza on Friday. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)
Concerns are growing that the bodies of missing passengers may have drifted away from the ferry that sank off the country’s southwestern coast last month, after several were found a few kilometers from the accident site.

A body of a female teenager was recovered Friday 4 kilometers from the ferry, which capsized near Jindo Island, South Jeolla Province. Earlier this week, another body was spotted 2 km from the accident site by fishermen.

As of Friday afternoon, divers had retrieved a total of 228 bodies. The number of missing stood at 74.

Of those found, more than 40 bodies were recovered outside the ferry, the maritime authorities said.

As part of efforts to prevent any of the missing bodies from being lost, the authorities vowed Monday to install a 5 km-wide net in a 7 km radius around the ferry, and to dispatch a dozen vessels to monitor an 8-to-15 km zone around the ship. The larger area will be searched by helicopters, officials said. 

Experts, however, questioned whether these measures would work.

“It is hard to say that they can completely prevent any loss of bodies. It is realistically impossible to perfectly control the wide sea using only a net,” said Korea Maritime University professor Yun Jong-hwui.

“The currents of the area where the ferry sank are extremely strong as well,” he added.

The emergency net was not installed in the first few days, drawing criticism from relatives of the missing over the late response.

If any bodies were lost in the early stages of the accident, the victims may have been swept 50 km away due to the high waves and fast currents in the area, the maritime authorities suggested.

Meanwhile, the Coast Guard and Navy divers continued their search of the third-, fourth- and fifth-deck cabins. The rescue team also decided to forcibly open the doors of the closed sections using fire-fighting equipment.

As of Friday, 46 of 64 compartments, where most of the missing passengers were believed to be trapped, have been searched.

A specially designed airtight steel chamber, known as a diving bell, was withdrawn several hours after it was mobilized on Thursday.

“(We) failed in the search for the missing. It was a failure,” said diving bell operator Lee Jong-in.

Lee previously claimed that the diving bell would enable divers to stay more than 20 hours underwater.

The government’s alleged refusal to deploy the diving bell in the beginning, citing the safety of the divers, has been met with criticism

The equipment was deployed following requests from the relatives of the missing.

By Lee Hyun-jeong (rene@heraldcorp.com)

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