The news surrounding the Sewol, the South Korean ship filled with high school students that sank on Wednesday for reasons that still aren’t clear, has only become worse. We reported yesterday that the death toll of the shipwreck was almost certain to rise, and unfortunately it has. Twenty eight people, including five students and two teachers, are now confirmed dead, and the prospect of finding any of the missing 270 passengers alive has become increasingly doubtful. One part of the Sewol’s hull remained above water for two days after the shipwreck, meaning at least one section of the ship was not yet flooded, but now the vessel is entirely submerged in the icy waters off the coast of South Korea. Adding another dimension of horror to the tragic shipwreck, one of the survivors committed suicide by hanging himself with a belt from a tree in Jindo, where relatives of missing passengers are staying. He was the vice principal of Ansan Danwon High School, which over 300 passengers on the doomed ferry attended.
Rescue efforts have been complicated by rough waters and high winds in the frigid Yellow Sea. Divers were finally able to make it into the hull of the ship today, and two even made it to the second deck, where cargo was stored. But the conditions of the sea forced them out before they were able to find any bodies. The vessel is not stable in the water, so any entry into the sunken ship puts divers at risk. Even so, divers plan to enter the vessel as soon as possible. The hope is that there are still air bubbles in the ship which, if found by the passengers, could potentially supply them with oxygen for at least a couple of days. Such air bubbles can certainly exist, even in ships that are fully submerged in water, as the Sewol now is. However, even if air bubbles remain and passengers were able to find them, they may have succumbed to hypothermia at this point because of the cold temperature of the water.
Fairly soon, the frantic rescue operation will inevitably transition into a much slower salvage operation, and indeed cranes to lift the ship out of the water have already arrived at the scene of the shipwreck. Although not a promising sign, the arrival of cranes does not by itself indicate that all hope has been abandoned by the officials running the rescue efforts. It can take months to raise a ship with cranes in the sea, so if the cranes are used at all in the immediate future, they will focus on raising one part of the ship, which could aid the search for survivors (or at least not compromise any rescue efforts).
As we pointed out in our previous article about the sinking of the Sewol, attention will quickly turn from the search for survivors to who is to blame for the shipwreck, and indeed this has already started to happen. The captain could potentially be charged with accidental manslaughter and negligence, and it likely won’t help his case that he was not in the steering room when the accident happened, or so a South Korean prosecutor alleges.
For now, however, the focus remains on the rescue operation, even though the results of that effort are starting to look bleak.