MOKPO, South Korea — An immediate evacuation order was not issued for the ferry that sank off South Korea's southern coast, likely with scores of people trapped inside, because officers on the bridge were trying to stabilize the vessel after it started to list amid confusion and chaos, a crew member said Thursday.
Meanwhile, the coast guard said it was investigating whether the ferry's captain was one of the first ones off the sinking ship.
The first instructions from the captain were for the passengers to put on life jackets and stay put, and it was not until about 30 minutes later that he ordered an evacuation, Oh Yong-seok, a 58-year-old crew member, told The Associated Press. But Oh said he wasn't sure if the captain's order, given to crew members, was actually relayed to passengers on the public address system.
Several survivors also told the AP that they never heard any evacuation order.
The loss of that precious time may have deprived many passengers of the opportunity to escape as the Sewol sank Wednesday, not far from the southern city of Mokpo.
Twenty people, including a female crew member, at least five students and two teachers, were confirmed dead by coast guard officials Thursday night. But the toll was expected to jump amid fears that more than 270 missing passengers — many high school students — were dead. Coast guard officials put the number of survivors Thursday at 179.
Video obtained by AP that was shot by a survivor, truck driver Kim Dong-soo, shows the vessel listing severely as people in life jackets cling to the side of the ship to keep from sliding. A loudspeaker announcement can be heard telling passengers to stay in their quarters.
The increasingly anxious search for the missing was hampered all day Thursday by strong, dangerous currents, rain and bad visibility. Officials said divers would continue trying overnight to enter the ship, hoping for gentler currents.