Families grimly seek to identify ferry dead

Park lashes out at 'murderous' crew as four more are held

AP, Reuters

There are no names listed as relatives huddle around white signboards to identify bodies from a sunken ferry — just the slimmest of clues about mostly young lives now lost. Many wore hoodies and track pants. One girl painted her fingernails red and toenails black. Another had braces on her teeth.

As divers increasingly make their way into the ship, including a new entryway through the dining hall on Monday, there has been a big jump in the number of corpses discovered. And that means on Jindo, an island near to where the ferry sank on Wednesday, relatives of the missing must look at sparse details such as gender, height, hair length and clothing to see if their loved ones have been found.

“I’m afraid to even look at the whiteboards,” said Lim Son-mi, 50, whose 16-year-old daughter, Park Hye-son, has not been found. “But because all the information is quite similar, whenever I look at it, my heart breaks.”

That is why relatives have already lined up to give DNA samples at the gymnasium where they are staying, to make bodies easier to identify when they are recovered.

With hopes of rescue withered, relatives angrily confronted government officials several times on Sunday, furious at what they see as an inadequate response to a disaster that may have claimed more than 300 lives.

The confirmed death toll rose to 64 on Monday as prosecutors said they detained four crew members — two first mates, a second mate and a chief engineer — whom they suspect of failing to protect passengers. The captain and two crew members were formally arrested earlier, and senior prosecutor Ahn Sang-don said prosecutors will decide within 48 hours whether to ask a court for arrest warrants for the newly detained crew.

A transcript released by the coast guard on Sunday shows the ship was crippled by confusion and indecision well after it began listing.

Many people followed the captain’s initial order to stay below deck, where it is feared they remain trapped. About 240 people are still missing. The ferry sank with 476 people on board, most of them students from one high school.

Prosecutors have said the ship made a sharp turn before it began to list.

More than 170 people survived the sinking of the Sewol, which had been on its way from the South Korean port city of Incheon to the southern tourist island of Jeju. The captain took more than half an hour to issue an evacuation order, which several passengers say they never heard.

President Park Geun-hye said Monday that the actions of the captain and crew were tantamount to murder.

“Above all, the conduct of the captain and some crew members is unfathomable from the viewpoint of common sense, and it was like an act of murder that cannot and should not be tolerated,” Yonhap news agency quoted her as saying during a meeting with aides.

Early Sunday, about 100 relatives attempted a long protest march to the presidential Blue House in Seoul, about 400 km (250 miles) away, saying they wanted to voice their complaints to Park. They walked for about six hours before police officers in neon jackets blocked a main road.

Families on Sunday also blocked the prime minister’s car and cursed at and pushed the fisheries minister.

Lee Woon-geun, father of 17-year-old missing passenger Lee Jung-in, said relatives are desperate to retrieve bodies before they decompose beyond recognition.

“After four or five days, the body starts to decay. When it’s decayed, if you try to hold a hand, it might fall off,” he said. “I miss my son. I’m really afraid I might not get to find his body.”