Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Coping With the Aftermath

"We are trained for hostile environments, but it's hard to be brave when we meet bodies in dark water."
Hwang Dae-sik, South Korean diver

"Close your eyes. That's what I saw."
Choi Jin-ho, South Korean diver

"The hull is upside down. It is pitch black, and everything is floating around in the water. Finding people is almost by touch, almost impossible."
Chris Ware, professor, Greenwich Maritime Institute, London

"The lounge is one big open space, so once in it we got our search done straight away. But in the case of the cabins, we will have to break down the walls in between because they are all compartments."
"Even if there is only one survivor, our government will do its best to rescue that person."
Koh Myung-seok, South Korean emergency task force spokesman

"We don't want the bodies to decay further, so we want them to pull out the bodies as quickly as they can."
"It inflicts a new wound for the parents to see the bodies decomposed."
Pyun Yong-gi, father of missing 17-year-old

  South Korean rescue members carry the bodies of victims recovered from the 'Sewol' ferry to ambulances at a harbour in Jindo
Here South Korean rescue members carry the bodies of victims to waiting ambulances at Jindo harbour    Picture: Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images
During the drive to recover bodies from the Sewol ferry the dive teams must plunge into the swirling, dark waters of the Yellow Sea, up to 500 divers at a time. Some are directly attached to oxygen and communications lines and have the capability of an hour's submersion. Others wear oxygen tanks allowing them ten to twenty minutes to search before they must return to the top.

On Wednesday most of the 160 bodies that were recovered, it was revealed, had fingers fractured as a result of the hopeless effort expended in attempting to climb walls and floors in the submerged, overturned ferry, at an impossible slope to enable that task to succeed. Leaving to the imagination the desperate fear and agony suffered by the teens as they realized they were doomed.

Divers now search for the remaining estimated 150 as yet unaccounted for whose families are waiting to identify their loved ones. Search officials have informed them that divers must break down the walls leading to cabins in an effort to retrieve all the victims. Only when that is accomplished and there is certainty that all have been accounted for will demolition and salvage operations emerge.
Coast Guard divers prepare to jump into the water during a search and rescue operation for missing people at the ferry
South Korean Coast Guard divers prepare to jump into the waterPicture: Yonhap/EPA

It is a sensitive issue; when the cranes will be brought in and the cutting up and raising of the submerged vessel will take place. Government officials have cautioned that this work would eliminate any existing air pockets that might yet be sustaining the lives of possible survivors. This admission of faint hope is embraced by some of the parents and denied by others.

Some parents hold out no hope whatever that anyone will be found alive; their concern now is centred on bringing all the bodies out before decomposition is in an advanced stage, a situation that will further devastate the already traumatized relatives of the dead teens. Over three-quarters of the 323 students aboard the ferry are dead or missing.

Professor Kim Woo-Sook of Mokpo National Maritime University who taught the third mate, Park Han-gyeol who was steering the ferry before it sank spoke to Ms. Park at the detention facility where she is being held. She informed her former professor that she ordered a helmsman to conduct a five-degree turn as would normally be done but the steering gear turned too far and the helmsman was not able to turn it back.
Family members are shown footage of divers searching the wreckage
Family members are shown footage of divers searching the wreckage      Picture: Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images

While the cause of the disaster is not yet clear investigators, taking into account wind, ocean currents, freight, modifications made to the ship and the sharp turn it made before it began listing, Professor Kim feels that if the freight had been loaded tightly enough on the ship it would not have capsized even if the steering gear was defective. He in fact, suspects a technical problem occurred with the steering gear.

Senior prosecutor Ahn Sang-don stated that an analysis of photos and video before the sinking occurred showed the captain and other crew members who have all been placed under arrest made no move to rescue passengers. And that crew members at the steering room and engine room fled the sinking ship before seeing to the welfare of the passengers whom the captain had instructed to remain in their cabins.

Maritime experts are in agreement that had the captain ordered passengers to the deck, without instructing them to abandon ship, they would have benefited from a greater chance of survival.

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