False report blamed for late rescueAmid escalating criticism that local maritime authorities botched rescue efforts after a chartered fishing boat capsized off the country’s southern coast Saturday evening, leaving 10 dead and an unknown number still missing, the Coast Guard hinted Monday that a fake call that night had delayed action.
According to officials, a man whose name and contact information was written on the passenger list lied to authorities, claiming at 8:46 p.m. that he was “safely aboard the boat.”
The man took the call from authorities one hour and eight minutes after the 9.77-ton Dolphin last had contact with another vessel at 7:38 p.m. The Dolphin departed for South Jeolla from Chuja Island, just north of Jeju, at 7 p.m.
The Coast Guard said he was the only person among the 22 passengers on the list to answer the phone, and then called back nine minutes later to confess he had lied.
The 43-year-old, who was not aboard the fishing boat and claimed to have been “like brothers” with the Dolphin’s captain, Kim Cheol-su, 46, said he was afraid Kim might get into trouble with the police if it was revealed that the captain had submitted a false passenger list.
The Dolphin was confirmed missing at 9:03 p.m.
The death toll remained unchanged at 10 on Monday, with eight estimated to still be missing. The number of rescued was also unaffected at three. All survivors were transported Sunday to Jeju Halla Hospital’s intensive care unit for hypothermia.
“They’re getting better,” said Mun Yi-sang, the head of the hospital’s emergency rescue department. All three are scheduled to be transferred to a general ward by Wednesday.
The doctor did not say when they are expected to leave the hospital.
Authorities have yet to confirm the exact number of passengers currently missing, and Jeju coast guard officials claim that Kim, among the dead, botched passenger identification procedures by submitting a false passenger list to the Coast Guard when he left Chuja Island on Saturday evening.
Authorities did not explain Kim’s possible motives, but implied it was for the sake of convenience. One survivor recalled seeing Kim being “washed away” by a wave while trying to save other passengers.
The Coast Guard estimates 21 people were on board, most of them men who signed up to go fishing for recreation. The Dolphin was discovered capsized nearly 11 hours after it departed Chuja Island by a chartered fishing boat passing nearby.
The boat was found in waters about a kilometer (0.6 mile) south of Seomsaengyi Island, an uninhabited area south of Chuja Island. All survivors were found on top of the capsized boat.
Authorities have yet to identify the cause of the accident, but one survivor said that high waves and heavy rainfall might have led the boat to turn over.
The captain of a fishing boat that arrived at Chuja Island an hour before the Dolphin departed said that “weather conditions were harsh enough for anyone to determine it was impossible for a boat to sail.”
BY LEE SUNG-EUN, CHA SANG-EUN and SOHN GUK-HEE [firstname.lastname@example.org]