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
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