Families of ferry's lost confront SKorea officials

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 24, 2014 at 12:45 pm •  Published: April 24, 2014
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JINDO, South Korea (AP) — Angry relatives of some of the more than 120 people still missing from the sinking of the ferry Sewol surrounded the fisheries minister and the coast guard chief Thursday, preventing them from leaving the area where families have been waiting for word of their loved ones for more than a week.

It was the latest expression of fury and desperation in a disaster filled with signs that the government did too little to protect passengers. An opposition politician said he has a document showing that the ferry was carrying far more cargo than it should have been.

Relatives of the missing passengers surrounded Oceans and Fisheries Minister Lee Ju-young, coast guard chief Kim Seok-kyun and deputy chief Choi Sang-hwan. The men sat on the ground under a tent where details about the recovered dead — now numbering 175 — are posted.

Some of the family members shouted at the officials, accusing them of lying about the operation, demanding that the search continue through the night and asking why hundreds of civilian divers have not been allowed to join coast guard and navy personnel in searching for bodies. Some of the relatives cried through the tense scene.

"We are doing our work and we, too, feel the way you do," Kim said. "We are trying to bring all the equipment that we can."

About 700 divers are working at the site of the April 16 wreck, said Koh Myung-seok, spokesman for the government-wide emergency task force. He said more than 340 volunteer divers have visited, but only 16 have gone underwater.

Responding to complaints that the volunteers have been underutilized, Koh said some have been allow to dive but "left after taking photos or have come out of the water in less than 10 minutes. As a result, we have decided that civilian divers are slowing down the rescue process" and will not be allowed to participate.

The government has said the search is becoming more difficult because divers must now break through cabin walls to find more bodies. Many of the bodies already retrieved were in a larger lounge area.

Eleven crew members, including the captain, have been arrested on suspicion of negligence and abandoning people in need as the ferry sank on its way from Incheon port to the southern island of Jeju. Arrest warrants were issued against four of the crew on Thursday.

The cause of the disaster is not yet known, but prosecutors are considering factors including a turn made around the time the ship began listing, wind, ocean currents, modifications made to the ship and the freight it was carrying.

Moon Ki-han, a vice president at Union Transport Co., which loaded the Sewol's cargo, said it was carrying an estimated 3,608 tons of cargo. That is far more than what the coast guard said Capt. Lee Joon-seok reported in paperwork submitted to the Korea Shipping Association: 150 cars and 657 tons of other cargo. Motor vehicles typically weigh about a ton each.