Divers searching the wreck of the sunken South Korean ferry are finding cabins overfilled with people, but they are encountering
major obstacles in recovering bodies, South Korean officials said Friday.
Searchers discovered the bodies of 48 girls wearing life vests in a cabin with a capacity of 30, indicating many passengers ran into the same room when the ship tilted.
The ferry Sewol is on the sea floor and resting with its right side up, said Capt. Kim Jin-hwang, a South Korean navy officer commanding the rescue operation.
Searchers are now trying to reach a dormitory-style cabin where they believe as many as 50 girls may be, he said.
Officials said conditions remained challenging inside the submerged vessel.
The visibility is very poor and lots of floating objects are blocking the way, the officials said. Some doors can't be opened because of the water pressure, and divers are having to break windows to gain access to certain parts of the ship.
Most of the bodies being found are wearing life vests, which probably made it harder for them to escape when the ship tilted because the exits would have been underwater below them. Divers have had to take life vests off the bodies to carry them out, Kim said.
Meanwhile, strong currents are pulling hoses supplying air to the divers, making it hard for them to stay underwater for long.
The divers have already searched all the easily accessible places, Kim said. They are expecting the search to become harder because of strengthening currents and harsher weather conditions.
Safety concerns about sister ship
A sister ship of the sunken ferry operated by the same company was found to have multiple safety concerns, investigators told CNN.
The prosecutor's office leading the investigation in the southern city of Mokpo said that authorities have been looking at the passenger ferry Ohamana, a ship owned by Chonghaejin Marine. That company also owns the Sewol, which sank off the country's southwestern coast on April 16 with 476 people on board.
The Mokpo Joint Investigation Force Headquarters examined the Ohamana because of its similarities to the Sewol and to get an idea of how the Sewol may have been operating.
Investigators inspected the ship and took away documents from the ship's offices Friday. They studied the emergency escape plans and found the following issues:
• Of the life rafts on board, 40 did not work.
• The emergency slides did not work.
• There was no equipment to tie down cars.
• The equipment for tying down containers didn't work very well.
Like the Sewol, the Ohamana had been modified to add more passengers, the prosecutor's office said.
The Ohamana usually operates between Incheon and Jeju three times a week. According to the ship tracking website MarineTraffic.com, the Ohamana arrived in the port of Incheon on April 16, the day the Sewol sank, and has not left since.
The South Korean Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries said that the Ohamana ceased operating right after the sinking.