JINDO, South Korea — Divers continued the grim work of recovering bodies from inside a sunken South Korean ferry today, as a newly released transcript showed the ship was crippled by confusion and indecision well after it began listing. The transcript suggests that the chaos may have added to a death toll that could eventually exceed 300.
Many people followed the captain's initial order to stay below deck, where it is feared they remain trapped. Sixty-four bodies have been recovered, and about 240 people are still missing. The ferry sank with 476 people onboard, many of them students from a single high school.
According to the transcript released by South Korea's coast guard, about 30 minutes after the Sewol began tilting, a crew member asked a marine traffic controller whether passengers would be rescued if they abandoned ship off South Korea's southern coast. The crew member posed the question three times in succession.
That followed several statements from the ship that people aboard could not move and another in which someone said that it was "impossible to broadcast" instructions.
An unidentified official at Jindo Vessel Traffic Services Center told the crew that they should "go out and let the passengers wear life jackets and put on more clothing."
"If this ferry evacuates passengers, will you be able to rescue them?" the unidentified crew member asked.
"At least make them wear life rings and make them escape!" the traffic center official responded.
"If this ferry evacuates passengers, will they be rescued right away?" the crew member asked again.
"Don't let them go bare — at least make them wear life rings and make them escape," the traffic official repeated. "The rescue of human lives from the Sewol ferry … the captain should make his own decision and evacuate them. We don't know the situation very well. The captain should make the final decision and decide whether you're going to evacuate passengers or not."
"I'm not talking about that," the crew member said. "I asked — if they evacuate now, can they be rescued right away?"
The traffic official then said patrol boats would arrive in 10 minutes, though another civilian ship was already nearby and had told controllers that it would rescue anyone who went overboard.
The cause of the disaster is not yet known, but prosecutors have said the ship made a sharp turn before it began to list. Several crew members, including the captain, have been arrested on suspicion of negligence and abandoning passengers.
More than 170 people survived the sinking of the Sewol, which had been on its way from the South Korean port city of Incheon to the tourist island of Jeju.