12:24 pm - Saturday April 20, 2024

2 dead as South Korea ferry with 476 passengers sinks

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Dozens of military boats and helicopters scrambled on Wednesday to rescue more than 470 people, including 325 high school students on a school trip, after a ferry sank off South Korea’s southern coast, killing at least two and injuring 14, officials said.

The ferry with 476 people was sailing to the southern island of Jeju when it sent a distress call on Wednesday morning after it began leaning to one side, according to Ministry of Security and Public Administration. The government said about 95 per cent of the ship was submerged.

Two Coastguard officers said that a 27-year-old woman named Park Ji-yeong and another unidentified person had died. One of the officers said 180 passengers had been rescued so far, but gave no further details, including what caused the ship to sink or the conditions of the other passengers.

A student, Lim Hyung-min, told broadcaster YTN from a gym on a nearby island that he jumped into the ocean wearing a life jacket with other students and then swam to a nearby rescue boat.

“As the ship was shaking and tilting, we all tripped and bumped into each another,” Mr. Lim said, adding that some people were bleeding. Once he jumped, the ocean “was so cold. … I was hurrying, thinking that I wanted to live.”

Local media ran photos showing the partially submerged ship tilting dramatically as helicopters flew overhead and rescue vessels and a small boat covered with an orange tarp over it floated nearby.

The students are from a high school in Ansan city near Seoul and they were on their way to the Jeju island for a four-day trip, according to a relief team set up by Gyeonggi Province, which governs the city. The ship left Incheon port, just west of Seoul, on Tuesday evening, according to Busan Regional Maritime Affairs & Port Administration.

At the high school, students were sent home and parents gathered for news about the ferry.

A total of 16 helicopters, 34 rescue vessels and Navy divers were sent to the area, Lee Gyeong-Og, a vice minister for South Korea’s Public Administration and Security Ministry, told a televised news conference. He said President Park Geun-hye ordered a thorough rescue operation to prevent deaths. He said 14 had been injured so far, including one described as serious, and taken to hospitals.

Mr. Lee said that Navy special forces and an underwater demolition team would help rescue passengers who’d jumped into the water as the ship sank.

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