One dead, 11 missing after fire on boat off Jeju Island

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One dead, 11 missing after fire on boat off Jeju Island

One person died and 11 others remain missing after the fishing boat they were working on caught fire and capsized in waters off Jeju Island on Tuesday morning.

Among those missing, five are Korean nationals and the six others are Vietnamese. The man who died has been identified as a 61-year-old Korean.

The exact cause of the fire aboard the 29-ton fishing boat, which had departed from Tongyeong, South Gyeongsang, remains unclear.

The Coast Guard said it was informed of flames coming from the boat at around 7:09 a.m. Tuesday from another ship that was passing by.

Coast Guard officials arrived at the scene at 8:15 a.m. but could not immediately enter the boat because the flames were too strong. Rescue workers believe the crew was unable to report the fire to authorities because it spread too quickly.

The fire was eventually extinguished at 9:40 a.m. when a large wave turned the boat over.

At nearly 10:37 a.m., a man was found in the sea without a life vest on. He was airlifted to a nearby hospital but was later pronounced dead.

None of the remaining 11 people were found as of 8 p.m. press time Wednesday.

At least nine vessels from the Coast Guard and the Navy, as well as 10 aircraft, including helicopters, have been mobilized to search for the missing crew members. Coast Guard rescue divers searched inside the boat three times but were unable to find any of the crew due in part to severe damage caused by the blaze.

The fishing boat set out to sea on Nov. 8 from Tongyeong Port, and was supposed to return back to the same port last Monday at around 8:35 p.m. Why the boat didn’t follow its original schedule was not immediately known.

According to the Coast Guard, the boat’s automatic identification system, which sends information about the vessel’s position, course and speed to maritime authorities, stopped sending signals at around 4:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon ordered related agencies to mobilize all possible means for the search and rescue operation.

Moon Seong-hyeok, the minister of oceans and fisheries, held a briefing for the families of missing crewmen at a Jeju Coast Guard office Tuesday.

“I heard from the families of missing crewmen that they are suffering from intolerable pain and sorrow,” Moon said. “We will do everything we can to help the families.”

BY CHEA SARAH [chea.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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