Search efforts pick up

Search-and-rescue teams secured more guide ropes onto the sunken ferry Sewol, Monday, gaining further access to the stricken vessel.

State-of-the-art remotely-operated vehicles (ROVs) were brought in to look for more bodies.

On the sixth day since the tragedy, the death toll stood at 87 as of 11 p.m. out of a total of 476 passengers aboard the ill-fated ferry, while 215 remain unaccounted for — most of these being high-school students who were on a four-day trip to Jeju. The number of survivors remained at 174.

The Coast Guard doubled the number of guide ropes to 10 so that 20 divers at a time could conduct underwater searches from a newly positioned floating platform.

Due to unusually favorable weather and weaker tidal currents in the sea off the southwestern coast, divers attempted to reach the dining hall of the 6,825-ton vessel situated on the third deck where many passengers were gathered, according to survivors.

Two American operators started running ROVs designed to search outside the submerged vessel or inside its hull to find bodies or potential survivors.

However, questions were raised regarding the efficiency of the unmanned submersibles due to the near-zero visibility conditions.

As the operation to recover bodies continues, the window of possibility to discover anyone alive in the sunken ship’s air pockets has already closed — 72 hours was the maximum survival period given by experts.

But many relatives of the victims camped out at a nearby gymnasium on Jindo Island still cling to the faint hope of getting their loved ones back alive. Others are requesting that the operation to raise ship should begin to find their sons and daughters before their bodies decompose beyond recognition.

Five gigantic cranes are ready but the government plans to hoist the wreck only after securing the agreement of all family members.

Meanwhile, a joint investigation team arrested four more crewmembers from the Sewol, who abandoned the listing ship leaving passengers trapped inside. They are the two first mates, one second mate and the chief engineer.

Senior prosecutor Ahn Sang-don said Monday that the prosecution will decide soon whether or not to ask a court for a formal arrest warrant.

Ferry Captain Lee Joon-seok has already been formally detained on charges of negligence of duty and violations of the Maritime Law together with two other crewmembers, who were on the bridge when the ship capsized.

An engineer surnamed Son tried unsuccessfully to commit suicide on Monday at a motel in Mokpo, close to Jindo Island.

The 49-year-old attempted to hang himself with a rope but colleagues prevented him from doing so. Son was scheduled to face questioning by the joint police and prosecution team.

A detained third mate surnamed Park is also known to be in an unstable mental state.

She executed a sharp turn early Wednesday when the Sewol was in some of the most treacherous waters surrounding the peninsula traveling at full speed. This maneuver is believed to have caused the ship’s cargo to shift to in one side, eventually moving the vessel’s center of gravity. Two hours later, the vessel capsized completely. By Kim Tae-gyu The korea times

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