South Korea’s coast guard expanded the search area for missing bodies from the sunken Sewol ferry, as the government announced support for companies hit by lower consumer spending during a period of national mourning.
The coast guard deployed drifting buoys attached with mannequins in an effort to trace the possible path of bodies that may have been dragged away from the Sewol, the government’s disaster response team said in an e-mailed statement. The vessel sank in an area known for strong currents off the southwest corner of the Korean peninsula on April 16.
The search was also expanded to all 111 rooms on the Sewol, after the divers had previously focused their attention on 64 cabins known to have been occupied before the ship listed, coast guard official Ko Myung Suk said in a televised briefing today. The confirmed death toll of 273 will probably rise to 304 of the 476 people on board, making it the nation’s worst maritime disaster since 1970.
President Park Geun Hye, facing criticism over government handling of the disaster, called for preemptive measures to support the economy and companies affected by the ferry sinking, according to the presidential Blue House website. Those support measures include 15 billion won ($14.7 million) of cheap loans to travel firms and a further front-loading of the 2014 budget to boost domestic consumption, the finance and other ministries said in a statement today.
Travel agencies, transport companies and hotel chains have lost bookings during what’s normally one of their busiest periods. Before the incident, the government had designated May 1-11 as a special period for tourism, providing discount coupons for hotels, attractions and restaurants as part of its plan to boost domestic tourism spending.
High School Students
More than two thirds of the people on the Sewol were a group of 339 students and teachers from Danwon High School near Seoul. They were on a four-day excursion to Jeju island, nicknamed ‘Korea’s Hawaii’ for its volcanic scenery and beaches, a trip made by about 300,000 students a year, according to the island’s government.
Hundreds of thousands of people have visited temporary altars around the country to offer their condolences. Yellow ribbons with messages in support of the victims and their families are tied on railings in public places including along walking paths that flank the Cheonggye stream in central Seoul.
Families of the victims marched to the presidential Blue House seeking a meeting with Park overnight, according to YTN, which showed footage of a candlelight procession with many wrapped in blankets with police standing by.
Bank of Korea Governor Lee Ju Yeol said today the ferry’s impact on consumer sentiment is likely to be felt in the economy through the second quarter.