South Korea Says 293 Missing After Ferry Sinks En Route to Jeju Island

By Sam Kim and Heesu Lee | April 16, 2014

South Korea’s government said 293 people remain missing after a ferry carrying hundreds of high school students sank en route to the resort island of Jeju. At least two people, including a student, died in the accident.

A total of 164 people were rescued from the vessel, fewer than the 368 people announced earlier due to double-counting, Lee Gyeong Og, vice minister at the Ministry of Security and Public Administration, said at a televised press briefing. The total on board was also revised to 459, including 325 students, 15 teachers, and 30 crew members.

The passengers included 324 students and 14 teachers from Danwon High School near Seoul on an excursion to Jeju Island, Kim Tae Eun, an official at the school southwest of Seoul, said by phone. A board posted at the school trying to track those rescued showed that only 80 had been accounted for.

“Luckily I was able to jump, like many others,” Im Hyeong Min, a student from the school, told YTN in a phone interview after being rescued. Another student, whose name was not provided, broke down in tears as he spoke to Yonhap TV about his friends, who had been inside their cabins before the ship sank.

Coast guard footage showed the 6,325-ton ferry submerged with only its bow visible 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Byeongpoong Island off the southwest corner of the Korean peninsula. The government said it’s still investigating what caused the vessel to sink hours after departing from the port of Incheon, on a trip that generally takes almost 14 hours. Local media, including YTN TV, said it sailed into rocks in foggy conditions.

U.S. Ship

A U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship, which was on a routine patrol in the Yellow Sea, was heading to the area to help with the rescue operation, Stars and Stripes reported on its website

The vessel, named “Sewol,” or “time and tide” in Korean, is owned and operated by privately-held Chonghaejin Marine Co., a company official said by phone, asking not to be named citing internal policy. It’s the second accident in less than a month involving a Chonghaejin ferry, after its “Democracy No. 5” collided with a fishing boat near Incheon late last month, with no casualties, according to a company official who asked not to be named, citing company policy.

One of the two casualties in today’s accident was Park Ji Young, a female employee of the boat operator, South Korea’s disaster control agency said in an e-mailed statement. High school student Jeong Cha Woong was the other, according to the security ministry.

Distress Call

The coast guard received the accident alert from the ferry at 8:58 a.m. local time, the ministry said. The rescue effort includes South Korea’s special Navy forces, 31 helicopters and 60 vessels, the ministry said in an e-mailed statement.

The ferry can carry as many as 921 passengers and 130 vehicles traveling between Incheon and Jeju Island. Chonghaejin Marine operates two vessels on the Incheon-Jeju route as well as two other services in the southern coastal area, according to the company’s website.

The ‘Sewol’ left Incheon two hours late yesterday due to fog, Yonhap News reported.

South Korea has been investing in new cruise terminals in Incheon and other coastal cities to attract more tourists from China and Japan. That has prompted companies such as Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., the world’s second-largest cruise line, to expand into Asia as economic growth is making it more affordable for people to travel by ships.

‘South Korea’s Hawaii’

Routes to Jeju, an island also known as ‘South Korea’s Hawaii,’ are especially popular. A total of 2.3 million foreign tourists visited Jeju last year, with Chinese visitors accounting for 78 percent, according to data on the Jeju government’s website. Domestic visitors to Jeju totaled 8.5 million last year, up 6.3 percent from 2012.

Its popularity is also attracting foreign investment. Genting Singapore, Southeast Asia’s largest casino operator by market value, said in February it will develop a $2.2 billion casino resort on the island with Chinese property company Landing International Development Ltd.

Foreigners purchased a combined 11 square kilometers (4.2 square miles) of land in Jeju Island worth 467 billion won ($450 million) last year, according to data from Jeju Special Self- Governing Province data. The value of purchase jumped more than 47 percent from a year earlier, the data show.

–With assistance from Kyunghee Park in Singapore and Seonjin Cha, Rose Kim, Shinhye Kang and Seyoon Kim in Seoul.

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