Locals deftly rescue ferry passengers

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Locals deftly rescue ferry passengers

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Nearby vessels and fishing boats rush to rescue passengers on the stranded ferry Vacance yesterday in waters near Hongdo, an island off the southwestern coast in Sinan County. All 109 people onboard were rescued. [NEWSIS]

Five months after the tragic sinking of the Sewol that killed more than 300 people, another tourist ferry was stranded in waters off the coast of South Jeolla after striking undersea boulders yesterday.

But all 109 people aboard were rescued promptly thanks to a detailed safety manual drawn up by residents of a nearby island after a ferry capsized nearly three decades ago.

Around 9:14 a.m. yesterday, a 171-ton ferry ran aground after it struck rocks in waters around 200 meters (218 yards) from Hongdo, an island off the southwestern coast in Sinan County.

The 37.4-meter-long Vacance ferry, carrying 104 passengers and five crew members, departed from Hongdo port at 7:20 a.m. to tour the waters around the scenic, rocky island.

The Coast Guard responded to distress calls and rescued the passengers within 30 minutes of the accident with the assistance of nearby vessels and fishing boats.

For passengers, even that relatively short wait was fraught after Korea experienced its worst maritime disaster in recent history when the Sewol ferry capsized on April 16 near Jindo, another southwestern island off the coast of South Jeolla.

Since then, the country has scrambled to improve maritime regulations and its general culture of safety, which the Sewol tragedy exposed as being woefully inadequate.

The 355-capacity Vacance was seven years older than the Sewol, which was constructed in 1994. Locals protested when Hongdo Cruise Co-operative last May purchased the ship, built in 1987, and acquired a license to operate it in nearby seas for 10 years until 2023.

In July 1985, the Sinan 2 ferry capsized after an engine failure, leaving 18 of its 37 passengers dead or missing.

This time around, the passengers on Vacance were rescued in a timely manner thanks to safety guidelines that have been implemented by Hongdo residents more than 20 years ago.

As soon as the stranded ferry signaled for help, sirens echoed throughout Hongdo and a group of 180 locals abandoned their fields and household chores and headed immediately to the docks to respond to emergency measures. They set off in groups on eight vessels anchored by the wharf and 10 fishing boats. The Coast Guard arrived 15 minutes after Hongdo residents had completed rescue operations, around 9:45 a.m.

A safety manual drawn up by Hongdo residents calls for a siren to be activated in case of a disaster or fire. All residents must head to the wharf when they hear the siren and announcements must be broadcast about the accident as the residents gather. Then, teams of three should be dispatched to the accident scene.

Other measures include dispatching nearby vessels to the scene of an accident and for rescued passengers to be transported to Hongdo’s port.

Passengers of the ship later described a thundering noise as the vessel struck something, which “instantly brought the Sewol to mind.”

They also said the crew responded fairly calmly, instructing them to go to the top deck of the ship, resulting in no injuries.


BY SARAH KIM, CHOI KYUN-HO [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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