Furious parents of South Korean ferry disaster victims have attacked a senior official, accusing him of lying about search and rescue efforts on the sunken vessel. The death toll in the tragedy has reached 181, with 174 people rescued.
At least 20 angry relatives assaulted the deputy head of the Korean Coastguard, Choi Sang-hwan in his temporary office at the port of Jindo Island, the center of the rescue operations, reported AFP.
The parents rushed into Choi’s office, making their way through at least 10 officers. Once inside, they started punching Choi in the face and body.
“It's not like we are asking to have them back alive. We just want their bodies," one mother screamed at him.
The desperate parents then pulled Choi out of the office, dragging him to a nearby tent.
Some of the relatives ripped his shirt while several mothers repeatedly slapped the official.
"You'd be doing your best only when your own children were underwater," said another.
The parents also demanded to see Choi’s supervisor Kim Suk-kyun, the coastguard chief.
When Kim arrived, angry relatives demanded that officials gather officers by radio, telling them to mobilize more divers and speed up efforts in recovering the missing bodies.
"You guys said hundreds of divers were working there, but we only saw a few there today," another desperate mother screamed at Choi.
The parents also wanted to watch the rescue efforts live and demanded that closed-circuit TVs be set up for them.
Among their demands was to put a diving bell on site in order to retrieve the bodies faster. Later on Thursday, the officials finally agreed to consider bringing the bell into the operation.
According to the mission spokesman KO Myung-seok, the device's use will be determined by rescuers on-site.
On Thursday, 81 divers were looking for bodies, but the rescue operation was hampered as tidal currents became faster than expected.
Meanwhile, the government-wide disaster response headquarters confirmed that at least 88 divers will be involved in the search and rescue mission. They will search passenger cabins on the third and fourth floors of the five-story vessel on Friday. However, only 10 divers can trace guideline ropes into the sunken ship at a time because five ropes are being snaked into the ship.
A 6,825-tonne Sewol ferry carrying 476 passengers and crew capsized on an overnight trip from the northwestern port of Incheon to the southern resort island of Jeju. Among the passengers were at least 325 students from Danwon High School in Ansan city, south of the country’s capital, Seoul.
The confirmed death toll from ferry disaster rose sharply to 181, while the number of rescued has been unchanged at 174 since the day of the incident, report Xinhua news agency.
Meanwhile, four of nine crew members, arrested earlier on charges of violation of maritime law, fronted Korean TV cameras and apologized for their actions in leaving the sinking ship with passengers still aboard, reported Reuters. Three main suspects - the captain, a third mate and helmsman also apologized, though without admitting guilt to the charges, a source familiar with the legal proceedings told Reuters.
The South Korean government is facing a harsh backlash from angry relatives of ferry victims.
On Wednesday, parents confronted South Korean officials demanding the autopsies, saying it may show their children were alive inside the ship and only died because of a slow emergency response, according to Kim Hyong-ki, the spokesman for a representative committee set up by relatives.
Amateur footage released on Sunday showed the moment when the ship began to capsize. Passengers were told to stay put on the ship, even when it started to list. Some critics have argued that if an order to evacuate had been issued earlier, more people could have been saved.