The confirmed death toll from the ferry disaster off South Korea’s southern coast has reached 113, according to officials. 190 people are still missing. Four crew members accused of abandoning the ship and failing to protect the passengers have been arrested, three days after warrants were issued for the captain and two other crew.
The victims are overwhelmingly students of a single high school in Ansan, near Seoul. More than three-quarters of the 323 students are dead or missing, while nearly two-thirds of the other 153 people on board the ferry Sewol survived. The number of corpses recovered has risen sharply since the weekend, when divers battling strong currents and low visibility were finally able to enter the submerged vessel.
Emergency task force spokesman Koh Myung-seok said bodies have mostly been found on the third and fourth floors of the ferry, where many passengers seemed to have gathered. Many students were housed in cabins on the fourth floor, near the stern of the ship, Koh said. Twenty-two of the 29 members of the ferry’s crew survived, and nine of them have been arrested or detained in connection with the investigation.
The captain, Lee Joon-seok, and two crew members were arrested Saturday on suspicion of negligence and abandoning people in need. Prosecutor Yang Jung-jin said a court issued arrest warrants Tuesday for four other crew members authorities had detained a day earlier. Two additional crew members were detained Tuesday.
The four crew members arrested Tuesday talked to reporters after a court hearing, their faces hidden with caps, hooded sweatshirts and masks. One said they tried to correct the ferry’s listing early on but “various devices, such as the balance weight, didn’t work. So we reported the distress situation, according to the captain’s judgment, and tried to launch the lifeboats, but the ferry was too tilted and we couldn’t reach.”
The captain has said he waited to issue an evacuation order because the current was strong, the water was cold and passengers could have drifted away before help arrived. But maritime experts said he could have ordered passengers to the deck — where they would have had a greater chance of survival — without telling them to abandon ship.
The cause of the disaster is not yet known. Senior prosecutor Ahn Sang-don said investigators are considering factors including wind, ocean currents, freight, modifications made to the ship and the fact that it turned just before it began listing. He said authorities will conduct a simulation and get experts’ opinions.