The divers, with oxygen and communications lines trailing, can
only see a few inches in front of them in the wreckage of the ship
that started sinking a week ago after a sharp turn. Most of the
victims were high school children, who were told to stay where they
were for their own safety.
And most of the bodies found in the last two days had broken
fingers, presumably from the children frantically trying to climb
the walls or floors to escape in their last moments, media said.
"We are trained for hostile environments, but it's hard to be brave
when we meet bodies in dark water," diver Hwang Dae-sik told
Reuters, as the funerals of 25 students were held near the capital,
Prosecutors investigating the disaster raided the home of Yoo
Byung-un, the head of a family that owns the Chonghaejin Marine Co.
Ltd, the company that operated the Sewol ferry. They also raided his
son's home and the office of a church with which Yoo has been
associated, said a prosecutor who did not want to be identified.
The finances of Chonghaejin and its complex share structure have
come into the spotlight in recent days. Yoo was jailed for fraud for
four years in the early 1990s.
But it was not immediately clear how big a development this was.
Korean police and prosecutors often make dramatic raids to show that
progress is being made in a high-profile case.
Underwater, at the site of the sunken Sewol, divers are able to work
for nearly an hour at a time as long as the oxygen lines do not snag
on sharp corners of the ship's internal structure. When they use
cumbersome oxygen tanks on their backs instead, they can work for
about 20 minutes before an alarm bell sounds.
The Sewol sank last Wednesday on a routine trip from the port of
Incheon, near Seoul, to the southern island of Jeju.
Of the 476 passengers and crew on board, 339 were children and
teachers on a high school outing. Only 174 people have been rescued
and the remainder are presumed to have drowned.
The confirmed death toll on Wednesday was 150, many found at the
back of the ship on the fourth deck.
In a rare move, the disaster prompted reclusive North Korea, which
routinely threatens the South with destruction, to send a message of
sympathy. The two sides are still technically at war after the
1950-53 civil conflict ended in a mere truce.
"We express condolences for the missing and dead, including young
students, from the sinking of the Sewol," a South Korean Unification
Ministry spokeswoman quoted the message as saying.
Hwang, the diver, said his team had retrieved 14 bodies so far. "We
have to touch everything with our hands. This is the most grueling
and heartbreaking job of my career," he said.
Captain Lee Joon-seok, 69, and other crew members have been arrested
on negligence charges. Lee was also charged with undertaking an
"excessive change of course without slowing down".
[to top of second column]
LAW REQUIRES CAPTAIN TO STAY ON BOARD
Several crew members, including the captain, left the ferry as it
was sinking, witnesses have said, after passengers were told to stay
in their cabins, even though it was time for breakfast. President
Park Geun-hye said on Monday that instruction was tantamount to an
"act of murder".
"The charged crew members appear to have not carried out their duty
to rescue the passengers at all," prosecutor Ahn Sang-don told a
briefing. "Based on the fact that they were gathered in the bridge,
engine room and so on, then left the boat, we believe negligent
homicide is applicable."
According to Article 10 of Seafarers' Act, a captain has to remain
on board until all passengers have disembarked.
A boy with a shaking voice gave the first distress call to the
emergency services when the ferry listed.
Most of those who survived made it out on deck and jumped into
rescue boats, but many of the children did not leave their cabins,
not questioning their elders, as is customary in hierarchical Korean
society. They paid for their obedience with their lives.
Lee was not on the bridge when the ship turned. Navigation was in
the hands of a 26-year-old third mate, who was in charge for the
first time on that part of the journey, according to crew members.
The wife of one crew member under investigation who did not wish to
be identified quoted her husband as saying: "I should have died out
"He told me that he was taking some rest as he had finished his
shift. He fell from his bed and struggled to open the room door to
get out. He said he didn't go to the steering house to meet up with
rest of the crew. Rather he was found by coastguards and was
"My husband didn't get along with other crewmen, but he told me that
Captain Lee was someone comfortable and extremely calm. He said
Captain Lee was like no other: he didn't drink much, although he did
(Additional reporting by Meeyoung Cho, Joyce Lee, and Narae Kim;
writing by Nick Macfie; editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.