Boat downed on way back from search

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Boat downed on way back from search

Three days after their boat went down in the Yellow Sea, the fate of seven sailors aboard a fishing boat that came to the rescue of the doomed vessel Cheonan is still unknown, and authorities are now investigating whether the boat was struck by a Cambodian freighter.

The 99-ton Kumyang 98, carrying seven Koreans and two Indonesians, went down in waters southwest of Daecheong Island at 8:30 p.m. Friday as it took part in efforts to find the 46 sailors missing from the Navy patrol boat.

The bodies of two members of the Kumyang 98’s crew, Kim Jong-pyong, 55, and Indonesian sailor Cambang Nurcahyo, 36, were recovered by the Incheon Coast Guard on Saturday. The Coast Guard is using patrol boats and helicopters to search for the other missing crew members.

The Kumyang 98 was 17 minutes into a search operation with its sister boat, the Kumyang 97, when its net ripped. It was heading to a fishing bank when it may have been struck by the freighter, about 47 kilometers (29 miles) away from the site of the Cheonan’s sinking.

The 1,472-ton Taiyo, which was sailing on waters near the Kumyang 98, has been detained in Daecheong Island by the Incheon Coast Guard in relation to the accident.

Coast Guard officers said there were signs of a collision on the starboard side of the forward hull. They have submitted samples of blue paint from the hull to the National Institute of Science Investigation.

The Taiyo’s captain told investigators during questioning that he “felt some kind of impact on his ship while it was sailing on waters near where Kumyang sank.”

The families of the sailors missing from the Kumyang 98 have blasted the Coast Guard for failing to respond quickly to reports that the boat had been sunk. The Coast Guard reached the scene at 9:30 p.m. - an hour after the first distress signal went out - because it said it had been told to contact the wrong ship.

Kumyang Sea, the company which owns the downed fishing boat, reportedly gave the officers the telephone number of the Kumyang 97, whose captain reported his boat and crew were safe.

The Coast Guard sat idle for 15 minutes, until they realized the mistake. Their boats reached the scene an hour after the fishing boat went down.

“I completely don’t understand why the Coast Guard didn’t have the Kumyang 98 captain’s phone number in the first place. “If they’d had it, they wouldn’t have had to ask the company for it,” said Heo Yong-jin, 59, an uncle of missing sailor Heo Seok-hui, said.

Coast Guard officials said that if the Kumyang 97 captain had told them he couldn’t see the Kumyang 98, they would have responded to the distress call differently.


By Kim Mi-ju, Kang Ki-heon [mijukim@joongang.co.kr]
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