Passengers couldn't board lifeboats as the ferry had listed too much, a crew member said, according to a transcript released Sunday.
(USA Today) - The confirmed death toll from the sunken South Korean ferry rose to more than 50 Sunday while transcripts from when the ship was sinking revealed crucial miscommunication between the crew and ship traffic controllers who could have expedited rescue.
Also Sunday, funerals were held for three 17-year-old students and two teachers from Danwon High School in Ansan.
More than 200 people remain missing after the ferry Sewol sank off South Korea's southern coast Wednesday with 476 people on board, more than 320 of them students from the school. The 16- and 17-year-old students make up only 75 of the 174 known survivors but a vast majority of the missing.
Divers finally found a way into the Sewol on Sunday, recovering more than a dozen bodies.
The communications log released Sunday by the South Korean coast guard detailed the conversation between the Sewol and the Jindo Vessel Traffic Service Center. The Korea Herald notes that the log "showed that the crew was told on a number of occasions to implement emergency measures. However, the Sewol's communications officer concentrated on whether the Coast Guard was on its way without relaying the orders to the passengers."
A crew member told the center that it was impossible to broadcast instructions. About 30 minutes after the ferry began tilting, a crew member repeatedly asked whether passengers would be rescued if they abandoned ship. Many people followed the captain's initial order to stay below deck, a decision that likely doomed them.
"Even if it's impossible to broadcast, please go out and let the passengers wear life jackets and put on more clothing," a center official said.
"If this ferry evacuates passengers, will you be able to rescue them?" the unidentified crew member asked.
"At least make them wear life rings and make them escape!" the center responded.
"If this ferry evacuates passengers, will they be rescued right away?" the crew member pressed.
"Don't let them go bare — at least make them wear life rings and make them escape!" the center official repeated. "We don't know the situation very well. The captain should make the final decision and decide whether you're going to evacuate passengers or not."
"I'm not talking about that," the crew member said. "I asked, if they evacuate now, can they be rescued right away?"
The center official said patrol boats would arrive in 10 minutes. But a civilian ship was already nearby and had told the center it would rescue anyone who went overboard.
The ship's captain, Lee Joon-seok, 68, faces five criminal counts on charges including negligence of duty and violation of maritime law. Two crewmembers were also arrested, including a mate who a prosecutor said was steering in challenging waters unfamiliar to her when the accident occurred.
Lee defended his decision to wait about 30 minutes before ordering an evacuation.
"At the time, the current was very strong, the temperature of the ocean water was cold, and I thought that if people left the ferry without (proper) judgment, if they were not wearing a life jacket, and even if they were, they would drift away and face many other difficulties," Lee said. "The rescue boats had not arrived yet, nor were there any civilian fishing ships or other boats nearby at that time."
About 560 divers searched the vessel Sunday while 204 navy, coast guard and private vessels and 34 aircraft scoured the area, officials said. Diving operations picked up pace after five underwater routes were set up, officials told Yonhap news agency. The divers, who previously pumped air into the ship in the slim hope that survivors were inside, have yet to find anyone alive.
On the island of Jindo, dozens of angry families of those missing staged a sit-in for about two hours Sunday near the sinking site. Some scuffled with police, shouting, "Save my children!" Families are upset that the government mishandled the disaster and has not done enough to save possible survivors.
The situation calmed down after they were promised a meeting with Prime Minister Chung Hong-won. Chung and salvage experts met with some of the family members for about two hours at the indoor gymnasium where many are staying. Chung would not comment after the meeting.
Ferry operator, Chonghaejin Marine Co., has had issues in the past, Yonhap reported. Three weeks before the Sewol's sinking, one of Chonghaejin's passenger ships collided with a fishing boat in the Yellow Sea, Yonhap reports. No one was injured. In the last few years, Chonghaejin Marine ships have also had generator and engine troubles, Yonhap reported.
Contributing: Robin Webb, Laura Petrecca; The Associated Press