Friday, April 18, 2014

South Korea Ferry Disaster - Captain Told Passengers to Stay Put

The Sewol was a 6,835 ton, 146m ferry, en-route to Jeju Island with 475 passengers and crew.  Almost 300 are still missing, presumably dead by now, including many High School students.  The Sewol had 46 life-boats, only one was deployed.

Did the Ship Sink So Quickly?
I had wondered why so many passengers were missing.  The graphic above shows clearly that they had time. The distress signal was sent at 9am.   It is apparently that the ship started to list quickly, by 9:30am the Ferry had tilted to 60 degrees!  According to the graphic, the ship overturned after 10am.  By this time, if you were stuck in the ship, you'd surely drown.

Passengers were Ordered To Stay Put
According to multiple and independent reports, the passengers were told to stay put and await rescue. Why? Having been on several cruises, I understand that passengers should assemble at the emergency stations and await orders.  If the ship was not in danger of sinking, the Captain would usually not give the order to abandon ship.  This is sensible.  But if the ship was going to sink, you have to abandon ship!

When Will A Ship Overturn?  
While I am not marine engineer, I am aware that once a ship tilts beyond a certain degree, the ship will sink.  During a cruise on the Celebrity Silhouette, one passenger asked the Captain how far that particular cruise ship could tilt before it would overturn.  The context of the question was about rogue waves.

The Captain of the Celebrity Silhouette said that up to a certain point ( I think it was 50-odd degrees), the ship could right itself up. Beyond that, the ship may stay in a tilted position.  Even beyond that point, the ship would overturn.

So Did The Ferry Captain Know That The Ferry Will Overturn?
I have to conclude that the Captain of the Ferry would have known, within 5 to 10 minutes of sending out the distress signal, that the 146m long ferry would eventually overturn.  Why do I say that?  He would be able to tell that the Ferry was listing rapidly and it would be incumbent upon him to give the order to abandon ship, once he realised that the Ferry was in a grave danger of sinking.

Yet, Passengers Were Ordered to Stay Put 
Why?  I cannot fathom.  Some survivors reported that the crew told them that the Captain and Officers were trying to stabilize the ship and help would arrive in 10 minutes.  Under such a situation, it was only natural to obey the crew's orders.

The Captain abandoned ship at about 9:30am, and he lived.  I don't think he ever gave the general order to abandon ship.

Quoting from Survivor Koo Bon-hee, who criticized the crew for telling them to stay seated,
"We were wearing life jackets.  We had time."

Fortunately, some passengers decided to disobey the direct orders from the crew and abandoned ship. They lived. Those who obeyed the orders to stay put, most likely died.

This is a very tragic episode for South Korea.  Lives were needlessly lost.  I hope the South Koreans learn from this.

Rest in peace.

South Korea Ferry Sinking - Captain Delayed Evacuation (Today Online, 16 April 2014)

Captain, Crew, Accused of Abandoning Sinking Ferry (Today Online, 17 April 2014)

S Korea Ferry Captain Rushed Back to the Bridge as Ship Listed: Crewman (Today Online, 18 April 2014)

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