South Korea ferry: Students 'floated from cabins'

Students who survived the Sewol disaster described being "swept off their feet" as the ship began to sink, reports Lucy Williamson

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Students who survived South Korea's ferry disaster have described escaping from flooded cabins as the ship sank.

The students had obeyed the crew's orders to stay put, even as water started coming in as the Sewol listed.

"We continued to wait and only came outside because the water filled the room so much," one student said.

The Sewol ferry sank on 16 April off Jeju island, killing 304 people. The students were giving evidence against the captain of the Sewol and 14 crew.

They are accused of charges ranging from negligence to homicide.

A student survivor (in white blouse) of the disaster arrives to give evidence at the trial on Monday in the Suwon District Court in Ansan, South Korea (28 July 2014) A student survivor (in white blouse) of the disaster arrives to give evidence at the trial on Monday in the Suwon District Court in Ansan
South Korea Coast Guard members rescuing some of the passengers and crew aboard the ferry which capsized on its way to Jeju island The South Korean coastguard was criticised by some of the students on Monday for waiting outside the stricken vessel for passengers to swim out

The BBC's Lucy Williamson - at the trial - says that the picture painted by six female students giving evidence on Monday was of passengers left to find their own way out of the sinking ship.

The students who survived floated up to cabin doors - by now overhead - and were pulled out by their classmates.

Our correspondent says one student remembered how the water gushed in and swept away several of her friends,

Another questioned why rescuers did not enter the ship to help them get out.

It was the first time any of the teenagers on board the ferry have testified in a trial that is expected to last several weeks.

'Wilful negligence'

Most of those who died on the Sewol were teenagers from the same high school on a school trip.

Part of the Sewol is seen as South Korean maritime policemen search for passengers in the sea off Jindo on 16 April 2014 The ferry tragedy killed scores of students and left a nation in mourning
Relatives of passengers who died when the Sewol ferry sank look out to the sea at the port in Jindo - 30 April 2014 The sinking triggered widespread grief and anger over corruption and poor emergency response

While the crew are charged with abandoning ship, the captain and three officers are also charged with "homicide through wilful negligence".

Investigators say the ferry had been illegally modified to carry more passengers and cargo, and was overloaded.

But prosecutors say the actions of the captain and crew - including instructing passengers to stay in their cabins as the ship listed - led to more deaths.

Swept back

The students are testifying at a district court near their homes near Seoul, rather than at the actual trial in the southern city of Gwangju.

The disaster - which correspondents say was South Korea's worst maritime disaster in 44 years - resulted in harsh criticism of both bureaucrats and business officials for alleged failings or corruption.

Officials from ferry operator Chonghaejin Marine are also the subject of separate legal proceedings.

Earlier this month, police identified a body found on 12 June as company owner Yoo Byung-eun, who had been the subject of a man-hunt since the disaster.

His son, Yoo Dae-kyun, was arrested on Friday.

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