Over 300 people remain unaccounted for after a passenger ferry sank off the coast of South Korea’s southwest coast earlier this morning.
According to officials, 477 people were on board at the time of the incident and 164 have been confirmed rescued. Two fatalities have already been reported.
Details of the cause of the accident remain unclear, however one witness told local media that there was a “loud impact and noise” that caused the vessel to list on its port side and sink soon after. Sea conditions were reportedly calm at the time of the accident; however a number of ferry services were cancelled last night due to heavy fog.
The incident is all the more concerning given that the majority of those travelling on the ferry, the Sewol, were children and teachers from a school in a suburb outside the country’s capital Seoul on their way to the island of Jeju as part of an organised field trip.
After leaving Incheon Port, located 20 miles west of Seoul, late on Tuesday night, a distress signal was received by the local coastguard in the early hours of Wednesday morning. As many as 100 coastguard officials were scrambled to the scene immediately with fishing boats, commercial vessels, 18 helicopters, and even the navy joining the mass rescue operation.
TV footage and pictures from the scene captured the distressing moment as teenage classmates were seen jumping from cabin windows into the sea below as the vessel went down. With just a small part of the stricken vessel’s hull now visible, others were filmed being winched to safety from helicopters above and being pulled from the water by rescue teams.
The Sewol travels from the Port of Incheon to Jeju Island twice a week. Measuring 146 metres it has the capacity to carry 900 passengers and was built in Japan in 1994.
The rescue mission is ongoing.
Video courtesy of Euronews