South Korea ferry steered by novice young woman; 13 more bodies found, toll 49

The divers on Saturday night managed to retrieve three bodies that were spotted early morning by them, raising the death toll from the ferry sinking to 36, said reports.

Zee Media Bureau/Supriya Jha

Mopko: The divers on Sunday managed to retrieve 13 more bodies from the sunken ferry, raising the death toll to 49, as investigations showed that it was not the captain but an inexperienced 25-yr-old woman crew, referred as `third mate` who steered the ship `more than usual`.

Out of 10 bodies retrieved early morning today by the divers, eight were that of females and two of males.

With 13 more confirmed dead, hopes continued to fade for more survivors as 253 remain unaccounted for.

Earlier on Saturday night, the divers had managed to recover three male bodies from the passenger cabin.

The three bodies were earlier spotted inside the hull early morning on Saturday at 5:50 am when the divers had descended to the lower decks of the sunken ship but they could not recover the bodies due to time restriction and also they didn`t have proper tools to break through, Choi Sang-Hwan, the deputy director of the national coastguard had stated.

Divers retrieved the three male bodies at 11.48 pm on Saturday, when they broke a window to access the passenger cabin.

Of more than 470 people that boarded the ferry, 49 have now been confirmed dead and 253 remain unaccounted for.

There is a high possibility of passengers being trapped in third and fourth decks of the five-storey vessel.

The divers from the coastguard, Navy and other private bodies continued to search for more missing passengers despite choppy waters and cold currents.

Meanwhile, the captain of the ferry, Lee Joon-seok, was arrested early morning on Saturday with two other crew members – a 25 year old woman crew and another a helmsman in his 50s.

It emerged from the investigations that the captain had left the ship to the mercy of another inexperienced `third mate`, who was steering the ferry in the challenging waters when the accident happened.

Talking to the reporters, senior prosecutor Yang Jung-jin identified the “third mate” as a 25-year old woman named Park Hahelmsmann-kyul. Park is said to be holding six months of experience, and has never steered the ship in the area before.

Another arrested crew is 55-year-old Cho Joon-ki.

Talking to the reporters, Cho confessed that he too shared the blame “but the steering had been turned much more than usual”, referring to the reckless act by the young woman crew.

Investigators are still probing whether the third mate ordered a sharp turn that caused the ferry to tilt and finally sink.

“It’s not clear why the two crew members made the sharp turn”, Yang said.

Heaping blame on the captain, the prosecutor said that as a captain, Lee was required to be on the bridge helping his crew when the ferry was going through a difficult time.

“The captain escaped before the passengers,” said Yang.

Five counts of charges including negligence of duty and violation of maritime law have been levelled against the 68-year-old captain. The two other crew members each face three related charges.

The captain after being arrested appeared on TV apologising for his act.

“I am sorry to the people of South Korea for causing a disturbance and I bow my head in apology to the families of the victims,” Lee said.

When asked that why were the students instructed to remain in their places even as the ferry was sinking, the captain tod reporters that he did so keeping in mind their safe evacuation. 

"At the time a rescue ship had not arrived. There were also no fishing boats around there for rescues or other ships to help," Lee said. 

"The currents were very strong and water was cold at that time in the area. The captain added that the water currents were very strong and cold at that time and if the passengers were allowed to evacuate on their own, they would be swept far away. 

The sunken ferry Sewol was a 146-meter vessel with a capacity of 900 people. It was heading from the port of Incheon, in northwestern South Korea to the resort island of Jeju.  

The ferry is said to have struck something with a thud after which the ship listed and capsized and sank off Jindo island.