October 01, 2014 13:03
A cruise ship carrying 110 passengers and crew ran aground in waters off the southwest coast on Tuesday. All passengers were rescued.
Rescue efforts were completed in about 20 minutes thanks to the cool-headed response from passengers and crew and the swift action of the Coast Guard and nearby boats.
But the accident off Hong Island, South Jeolla Province happened not far from the April 16 ferry disaster, and the ship had just had its permit renewed despite being 27 years old, seven years older than the ill-fated ferry Sewol.
◆ Treacherous Waters
The 171-ton cruise ship Vacance carrying 105 tourists and five crew was passing east of Hong Island off South Jeolla Province when it stopped dead because the bow struck a reef.
Water started gushing into the bottom of the ship where the collision had torn a 1-m hole. Passengers toppled over from the sudden halt and some were hurt. Then the ship abruptly listed forward and black smoke shot up from the engine room.
But the ship crew responded differently from the crew of the Sewol in April, telling passengers to put on life jackets both over the public address system and in person. They also reassured passengers saying help was on its way.
Passengers soon calmed, helped each other with life jackets, and waited for rescue.
◆ Swift Response
The Coast Guard mobilized five helicopters and three patrol boats while asking the Navy and fishing boats in nearby waters for help.
Another cruise ship arrived within just 10 minutes and rescued about 80 passengers of the Vacance. Fishing boats picked up the rest, rescuing all on board safely in some 20 minutes.
About a dozen passengers were taken to hospital in Mokpo, but their injuries were not serious.
Five crewmembers including the captain stayed aboard the ship until it was towed to a close port -- again in stark contrast to the ferry disaster, where captain and crew bailed out first.
◆ Ancient Ship
The Coast Guard attributed the accident to the ship veering off course as a result of carelessness. Waves were relatively high at 1.5 m at the time of the accident.
An island resident said, "All ships keep out of these waters where there are many reefs. I don't understand why the Vacance went that way."
There was speculation that the captain was unfamiliar with the waters because he is from another region.
The Vacance was built in Japan in July 1987. It is 37.44 m long, 7.6 m wide, and 3.2 m deep, has a capacity of 355 passengers. It holds a brand-new 10-year license effective until 2023.
Locals resisted, citing the ship’s age, when the Vacance went into service. After the April ferry disaster, Hongdo islanders filed a petition with the Coast Guard to take the ship out of service for safety reasons.
But the Coast Guard in May gave the ship a clean bill of health.
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