Coast Guard must answer questions

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Coast Guard must answer questions

The Coast Guard was bombarded with questions about its suspiciously passive rescue efforts in the initial stages following the capsizing of the Sewol ferry on April 16. It must dutifully answer these inquiries as well as respond to any criminal charges. Based on what has been discovered so far, quick and responsible actions could have saved many passengers from the sinking ferry.

The Coast Guard chopper and rescue boats arrived at the scene at about 9:30 a.m., when the ferry was still visible above the sea. The Coast Guard helped the captain and crew, who were first to flee from the sinking boat, and the people on deck or in the water. But it did not bother to search inside the ferry, which was carrying 476 passengers. The people left behind under the deck - mostly students and teachers from Danwon High School who stayed in their cabins in accordance with instructions to stay put - waited naively for help to arrive.

Bodies were discovered days after the ferry completely sank underwater. No one was found alive apart from the 174 who were rescued the first day. Digital forensic analysis by a joint investigation team of prosecutors and police showed that the ferry was tilted at a 45-degree angle around 9:30 a.m., and further tilted to a 60-degree angle around 9:47 a.m., when the captain got on the rescue boat. When the last text message arrived from one of the children trapped inside at 10:17 a.m., the ferry had completely overturned.

Rescuers were able to enter the ship when it was halfway in the water. Even if they could not have easily accessed the ferry, they could have still warned passengers through the intercom to come up on deck. They could have saved so many children’s lives this way. Videos shot by students on their phones showed them sighing a breath of relief upon hearing the helicopters outside. But the Coast Guard did nothing - and merely circled around the sinking vessel.

Its actions afterward were equally bewildering. The maritime police are accused of editing or erasing records of communication that its land control tower exchanged with the Sewol when the ferry was in trouble. The Coast Guard escorted the captain to its staff-only residential complex to rest and also arranged lodging for the captain and the rest of crew while they were investigated as witnesses to the accident. But what must first be answered is why the Coast Guard did not take aggressive action in its rescue efforts during the first 47 minutes of the disaster, when the ferry was still above water, to prevent the tragic loss of so many young lives.


JoongAng Ilbo, May 13, Page 30


세월호 침몰 참사 당시 해경의 초기 대응을 둘러싼 의혹과 논란이 계속해서 불거지고 있다. 해경이 초기 대응만 잘했다면 훨씬 많은 승객들의 생명을 구할 수 있었다는 건 단순한 아쉬움에 그치지 않는다. 철저한 진상규명을 통해 법적 책임을 물어야 할 문제다.
세월호가 침몰한 지난달 16일 해경 헬기와 경비정이 사고 해역에 도착한 시각은 오전 9시30분 안팎이었다. 해경은 그러나 이준석 선장과 선박직 선원들을 구조한 뒤 물에 뛰어든 승객만 구하며 선체 내부로 진입하지 않았다. 이로 인해 3·4·5층 선실에 있던 승객들은 해경 도착 사실까지 알면서 구조를 기다리고 있어야 했다. 당시 세월호 상황에 대해 검경 합동수사본부는 대검 디지털포렌식센터(DFC) 분석을 실시했다. 그 결과 오전 9시30분 45도 정도이던 배의 경사도는 선장이 해경 구조선에 오르던 9시47분 60도를 넘었고, 배안의 단원고 학생이 마지막 문자메시지를 보내던 10시17분엔 100도 이상으로 기울어진 것으로 나타났다고 한다.
최소한 선장이 해경 구조선에 오르던 때까지만 해도 해경의 구조 작업은 가능했다. 선체 내부 진입이 어려웠다면 세월호에 올라 조타실 등에서 승객들에게 탈출 안내 방송을 할 수 있었다. 구조된 선원들에게 방송을 하라고 지시할 수도 있었다. 선체 안을 향해 “배에서 나오라”고 소리를 지를 수도 있었다. 하지만 해경은 아무 것도 하지 않은 채 세월호 주위를 맴돌기만 했다. 해경은 또 진도 VTS(해상교통관제센터)와 세월호 간 교신 내용을 편집 또는 삭제했다는 의혹을 받고 있다. 이 선장을 사고 직후 해경 직원 아파트에서 재우고, 참고인 신분으로 조사를 받던 기관장 등 선원 10명을 모텔에 함께 투숙시키는 등 납득하기 힘든 조치를 한 것도 해경이었다.
해경의 부실한 구조가 과실치사에 해당하는지는 차후의 일이다. 지금 필요한 건 47분간 해경이 왜 적극적으로 구조에 나서지 않았는지 사실관계를 확인하는 것이다. 그래야 아이들이 모두가 지켜보는 가운데 목숨을 잃는 참극이 되풀이되지 않을 수 있다.

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