Nine people have been confirmed dead and nearly three hundred others are still missing following the sudden and unexplained capsizing and sinking of a South Korean ferry boat yesterday. Many of those aboard were students on a school field trip. Some reports indicated that passengers were told not to abandon the ship, although the vessel's captain apparently made it off quickly. Today air was being pumped into the ship in the event that any passengers were still alive and trapped below decks.
I traveled on inter-island ferries multiple times while I was living in the Orient. The vessels are huge, the size of small ships. One large ferry that visited Okinawa regularly had four decks, with cars and livestock of the bottom level. Two of the decks had areas set aside where the ferry company had rolled out mats - a hundred or more in each location - for passengers to sleep on during their voyage. There were also shops and vending machines, as well as a couple of nice lounges with television.
In some respects the ferries were almost like economy cruise ships. One of the ferries that I rode originated someplace south of Okinawa (Taiwan, Vietnam, or perhaps the Philippines), made two stops on the Okinawan coast, then traveled north through the Ryukus and on to South Korea and Japan. The final destination was Vladivostock in Russia. I rode it with friends to Yoron, the first island north of Okinawa.
The disaster in the waters off of South Korea is almost unimaginable. May the news get better, and may all governments learn from this tragedy and work swiftly to improve maritime safety.