Radio transmissions show desperate final moments on sinking vessel

Posted on : 2014-12-04 15:26 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Families of missing crew members now seeking assistance in rescuing missing from frigid northern waters
 while on the right the captain of the Oryong 501 goes down with his ship. (by Jang Bong-koon)
while on the right the captain of the Oryong 501 goes down with his ship. (by Jang Bong-koon)

“After what I’ve done to the crew, how could I let myself survive?”

The final radio transmission made by Kim Gye-hwan, 44, captain of the Oryong 501, implied that he would go down with the ship. Kim had been communicating with Lee Yang-woo, captain of the Oyang, a tuna fishing vessel that was in the area of the accident.

The trawler Oryong 501 was fishing for pollock in the Bering Sea off the coast of Russia when it sank.

According to radio communication between the two vessels that the Hankyoreh reviewed on Dec. 3, as well as sources at Sajo Industries, the ship’s crew discovered at 9:30 am that the fish locker was full of water. Between 12 pm and 1 pm, they attempted to remove the water with a pump that they borrowed from the Carolina 77, a Russian vessel that was sailing nearby.

Around 1 pm, Kim made radio contact with Lee and said that they had pumped out more than half of the water from the fish locker. “It looks like everything will be okay,” Kim said.

But only 10 minutes later, around 1:10 pm, the Oryong 501 unexpectedly tilted 45 degrees to the left. At this point, Kim sent Lee an emergency message.

“I thought we had balanced the ship, but then it suddenly leaned to the left. I’ve received orders to evacuate the ship,” Kim said.

Around 1:30 pm, the two captains made their last contact.

Kim: Yang-woo, I wanted to say goodbye before the end.

Lee: Don’t say that! Get all of the crew off the ship safely and then make sure that you make it out alive as well.

Kim: All the lights inside the ship are off. After what I’ve done to the crew, how could I let myself survive?

Lee: Don’t say that. Evacuate the crew and get off the ship. All sorts of things happen to people, you know. It doesn’t need to be a big deal. Gye-hwan, get the whole crew off alive, and we’ll get a drink in Busan.

The mobile phone of Kim Sae-hwan
The mobile phone of Kim Sae-hwan

After this, radio communication between the two vessels ceased.

According to Sajo Industries and Kim’s family, Kim and Lee had been very close, their friendship going back 10 years. Kim had worked as Lee’s first mate from 2004 to 2007.

“The two of them were close friends. My son told me that he and Lee were like brothers,” Kim’s mother said.

Family members of the missing crew members think that the captain and crew went down with the ship and believe they could still be alive in a pocket of air that was created when the ship sank. Family members are urging the South Korean government to raise the trawler and rescue the crew.

‘Where’s the government right now? Where’s the Ministry of Public Safety and Security that was set up after the sinking of the Sewol? The government isn’t telling us anything. Please help us!’ family members pleaded.

As of 3:30 pm on Wednesday, the third day after the ship sank, Sajo Industries reported that it had recovered 11 more bodies through its search and rescue operations in the waters around the accident. Three of those bodies were South Korean crew members.

This brings the number of people confirmed dead in the accident to 12, including three South Koreans. Seven people have been rescued and 41 are still missing.

“Members of our rapid response team departed yesterday evening and today. They joined up in Vladivostok and are now deciding which harbor to go to,” said an official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The rapid response team will work with the Russian government to provide support on the ground when casualties from the accident or bereaved families reach the port.

The Busan Maritime Safety and Security Department, part of the Ministry of Public Safety and Security, have set up a team to investigate the cause of the accident. One possibility is that there was a flaw in the hull.


By Kim Young-dong, Busan correspondent


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