JINDO, South Korea — The South Korean ferry that sank was crippled by confusion and indecision well after it began listing, a radio transcript released Sunday showed, suggesting the chaotic situation may have added to a death toll that could exceed 300.
About 30 minutes after the Sewol began tilting, a crew member asked a marine traffic controller three times whether passengers would be rescued if they abandoned ship off South Korea’s southern coast.
Several statements from the ship indicated that people on board could not move. Another statement said someone declared that it was “impossible to broadcast” instructions.
Many people followed the captain’s initial order to stay below deck, where it is feared they remain trapped.
Sixty-one bodies have been recovered and about 240 people are still missing.
“Even if it’s impossible to broadcast, please go out and let the passengers wear life jackets and put on more clothing,” an unidentified official at Jindo Vessel Traffic Services Center urged Wednesday morning, 29 minutes after the ferry first reported trouble, according to the transcript released by South Korea’s coast guard.
“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 nearby and had told controllers that it would rescue anyone who went overboard.
The ferry sank with 476 people on board. The cause of the disaster is not yet known.
Several crew members, including the captain, have been arrested on suspicion of negligence and abandoning passengers.