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South Korea ferry disaster: Fury and questions grip South Koreans

Published on Apr 17, 2014 2:28 PM

There was indignation and fury in South Korea on Thursday over the Sewol ferry incident as the dimensions of the tragedy continued to expand.

As the search for the missing passengers entered its second day on, South Koreans woke to news reports that the stricken ferry's captain, Lee Joon Seok, along with most of his crew, had survived, while most passengers are among the missing.

The vessel, carrying 475 passengers and crew, capsized on Wednesday during a short journey from the port of Incheon to the holiday island of Jeju. Nine people were found dead and 179 had been rescued, according to the South Korean government, leaving 287 unaccounted for and possibly still trapped in the vessel, Reuters reported.

Mr Lee is reportedly being held in police custody and with the death toll looking likely to climb, may face charges of criminal negligence.

South Korean relatives of passengers on board a capsized ferry cry as they wait for news about their loved ones, at a gym in Jindo on April 17, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP

Those reports followed verbal accounts from survivors interviewed on Wednesday that a message had been broadcast over the ship's public address system telling passengers not to move, but to stay put.

Live footage, news reports and survivor interviews all indicate that those who survived ignored this order and moved to the ship's upper decks or clambered down the hull towards waiting vessels, which picked them up and carried them to safety.

The apparent lack of leadership and abrogation of responsibility from the captain and crew, as well as the emergency procedures aboard the doomed ferry - notably the order to remain in place rather than to abandon ship - are coming under intense scrutiny.

Telephone calls to the ship's owner company on Wednesday afternoon and evening were met with a recorded message requesting the caller to call again during regular business hours.

There has been intense discussion about the situation among both parents and schoolchildren. Like other Asian nations, South Korean society is based on a neo-Confucian culture which emphasises obedience to authority figures and deference to elders.

In the wake of the Sewol sinking, these values are being called into question.

This reporter's 15-year-old daughter - a student at a central Seoul middle school - and her friends spent much of Wednesday discussing the incident. Their conclusion was that in a disaster, it was best to ignore orders from teachers or authorities and think for themselves. "Obedient" students on the ship are among the missing, while "disobedient" students survived, the teenagers concluded.

As the scale of the tragedy increases, more uncomfortable questions will be raised, and tempers look set to rise further.

South Korea ferry sinking map