|A Korea Coast Guard helicopter searches for the missing fishermen in waters off the country's southwestern coast, Sunday, after a boat capsized at sea the night before. Courtesy of Coast Guard|
President orders maximum effort for search operations
By Jung Min-ho
The Korea Coast Guard and the ROK military have been searching for nine fishermen missing after their boat was capsized late Saturday night in waters off Korea's southwestern coast.
The 24-ton vessel was overturned at around 11:17 p.m. in waters 16.6 kilometers west of Daebichi, an uninhabited island close to the county of Sinan. Since then, three people, including one Indonesian national, have been rescued. Nine others, including two Vietnamese nationals, are still missing.
President Yoon Suk Yeol on Sunday told top officials of all related government ministries and agencies to maximize efforts to find them, calling for support for victims' families, according to Kim Eun-hye, senior presidential secretary for press affairs.
Some 30 vessels from the Korea Coast Guard and the ROK Navy as well as several maritime patrol aircraft and divers of its Sea Salvage and Rescue Unit (SSU) have been deployed to the area.
At a meeting with the families, Oceans Minister Cho Seung-hwan said most of those missing were believed to be on the ship's deck at the time the vessel capsized.
"Further investigation is needed to find out whether they were instructed by the captain to go out to the deck," Cho said. "We will share the result of the investigation with the families as soon as it comes out."
The cause of the incident is still unclear. The crew members rescued by a cargo ship, which received a help call from the country's Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) in Mokpo, said sea water started gushing into the engine room for an unknown reason before the boat rolled to one side.
Lee Hyung-keun, the captain of the cargo ship, said the survivors were waiting for rescue on the capsized vessel when he arrived at around 12:10 a.m. and they initially appeared to be unable to communicate properly due to hypothermia.
|A survivor of the fishing boat incident is taken to an ambulance at a pier in Mokpo, South Jeolla Province, Sunday. Newsis|
The initial attempt to carry out an underwater search inside the boat was not successful as fishing gear blocked entry to the vessel's cabin and engine room.
A prompt rescue was called for by the wife of one of the missing fishermen.
"My last call with my husband came on Feb. 1," she said to Newsis. "Exhausted by fishing work, my husband said he would retire next year … I hope he will return safely to his family."
The ministry said there will be a thorough investigation into what caused the suspected hull breach, after salvaging the boat.
The tragedy comes as memories of the Sewol ferry accident are still fresh. In 2014, the ferry capsized on its way to the resort island of Jeju, killing more than 300 people, most of them schoolchildren. The Park Geun-hye administration was criticized for its failure in rescue operations, which led to street protests against her leadership. She never recovered politically.