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Many Sunken Ferry Victims Believed To Be Trapped Below Deck


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Kelly McEvers.


And I'm David Greene. Good morning. In South Korea today, officials have requested arrest warrants for the captain and also two crew members of the ferry that capsized off the country's southern coast. At least 28 people are dead and nearly 300 people remain unaccounted for. Many of them are believed to be trapped below deck, but divers have so far not been able to get inside that vessel. For a second straight day rescuers have failed to find any survivors.

In the seaside town of Jindo passengers' family members are becoming increasingly desperate as they wait for rescue teams to return to shore. Here's NPR's Anthony Kuhn.


ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: At the water's edge, a lone Buddhist monk in grey robes prays for the ferry's missing passengers. It's the third day of rain since the ship went down. Nearby, passengers' relatives are debating what to do. The atmosphere is very tense, and some relatives appear to be at the breaking point.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (shouting in Korean)

KUHN: One enraged family member chases away journalists who are filming a wailing relative as volunteers try to console her. What's there to film, the man shouts, telling them to turn off their TV cameras. Most of the passengers aboard the ship are students at the Danwon High School in Ansan City, south of Seoul.

They were taking the ferry to scenic Jeju Island for a four-day field trip. Some students' parents are angry at the school for what they feel were inadequate safety measures on the trip. On Friday afternoon, the school's vice principal, who was rescued from the ferry, was found hanging from a tree outside a gymnasium here in an apparent suicide.

Choi Dong-won's nephew, a student at Danwon High School, is still missing. Choi says he's frustrated that the rescue effort is so poorly organized.

CHOI DONG-WON: (through translator) There's nobody in charge here. There are volunteers and medics and ambulances, but it's total chaos. Suppose they bring in survivors. The ambulances should be up front to meet them. The medics should be ready. But there's no order.

KUHN: Many relatives blame the media for inaccurate reporting. Today, Korean media reported that divers had made it inside the capsized boat, but coast guard officials later said it wasn't true. An ex-navy diver, who only gave his family name, Lim, has put on his wetsuit and is about to go into the water.

LIM: (through translator) Regardless of whether there are any survivors or not, we've got to get in there and find as many people as possible, whatever it takes. We share this sense of responsibility and mission. We all know the risks. But we volunteered anyway. We're very determined.

KUHN: The divers are trying to get air inside ferry to help any survivors. Lim says that the underwater currents are very strong, and the waters are so murky that divers can only see a few inches in front of them. He adds that despite his determination, he feels very bad about the situation.

LIM: (through translator) I feel apologetic to any survivors that the search mission has taken so long. I detest the reality that I have not been able to save all these school kids. I feel very guilty about it.


KUHN: As family members stare at the waves lapping at the shore, rescuers are deploying floating cranes to try to lift the sunken ferry. A section of the ship's keel has been the only part of the ship that's visible above the water. Now that too has been submerged. Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Jindo, South Korea. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea, reporting on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Before moving to Seoul in 2018, he traveled to the region to cover major stories including the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster.