UK & World News

  • 22 April 2014, 15:38

Ferry Disaster: Boy Was First To Raise Alarm

The first person to raise the alarm about the sinking South Korean ferry was a child who called a fire station three minutes after the boat made its final turn.

The boy's call was forwarded to the coastguard two minutes later and was followed by another 20 messages from children on board.

A fire official said the caller's voice sounded shaky and it took a while to identify the ship as the Sewol as the boy was panicking.

"Save us! We're on a ship and I think it's sinking," Yonhap news agency quoted him as saying.

The boy who made the call is among the missing. 

The fire station official asked him to switch the phone to the captain, and the boy replied: "Do you mean teacher?"

The pronunciation of the words for "captain" and "teacher" is similar in Korean.

Officials say the confirmed death toll has reached 104, with nearly 200 people still missing.

Of the 476 passengers and crew on board, 339 were children and teachers on a school outing to the resort island of Jeju.

Meanwhile, one of the crew members arrested over the disaster said they had tried to launch the lifeboats, but could not due to the tilt of the ship.

Media reports have also claimed crew members tried to contact officers on the bridge around half an hour after the ferry began listing to ask if they should give the order to abandon ship - but there was no reply.

Public broadcaster KBS quoted one as saying: "At the time, we could not confirm what the situation was on the bridge.

"We kept trying to find out but ... since there was no instruction coming from the bridge, the crew on the third floor followed the instructions on the manual and kept making 'stay where you are' announcements - at least three times."

South Korean President Park Geun-Hye has said the captain and some crew members of the sunken ferry committed "unforgivable, murderous acts" in the disaster.

Lee was arrested on Saturday along with a helmsman and the ship's relatively inexperienced third officer, who was in charge of the bridge when disaster struck.

He has been charged with negligence and failing to secure the safety of the passengers.

Senior prosecutor Ahn Sang-don has said four more crew members - two first mates, one second mate and a chief engineer - have been detained on allegations of failing to protect passengers and abandoning ship.