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Nearly 300 Missing After South Korean Ferry Capsize: Coastguard

Ferry sinking off South Korea with 450 people on board

Seoul – Almost 300 people were missing after a ferry capsized off South Korea on Wednesday, despite frantic rescue efforts involving coastguard vessels, fishing boats and helicopters, in what could be the country’s biggest maritime disaster in over 20 years. The ferry was carrying 459 people, of whom 164 have been rescued, coastguard officials said.

It was not immediately clear why the Sewol ferry listed heavily on to its side and capsized in apparently calm conditions off South Korea’s southwest coast, but some survivors spoke of what appeared to be an impact prior to the accident. “It was fine. Then the ship went ‘boom’ and there was a noise of cargo falling,” said Cha Eun-ok, who said she was on the deck of the ferry taking photographs at the time.

“The on-board announcement told people to stay put … people who stayed are trapped,” she said in Jindo, the nearest town to the scene of the accident. Survivors there huddled on the floor of a gymnasium, wrapped in blankets and receiving medical aid. One woman lay on a bed shaking uncontrollably. A man across the room wailed loudly as he spoke on his mobile phone.

Furious relatives of the missing threw water at journalists trying to speak to survivors and at a local politician who had arrived at the makeshift clinic. Most of the passengers on board the ferry appeared to have been teenagers and their teachers from a high school in Seoul who were on a field trip to Jeju island, about 100 km (60 miles) south of the Korean peninsula.

An official from the Danwon High School in Ansan, a Seoul suburb, had earlier said all of its 338 students and teachers had been rescued. But that could not be confirmed by the coastguard or other officials involved in the rescue. The school official asked not to be identified. The Ministry of Security and Public Administration earlier reported that 368 people had been rescued and that about 100 were missing. But it later described those figures as a miscalculation, turning what had at first appeared to be a largely successful rescue operation into potentially a major disaster. (Reuters)

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