Survivor in Fishing Boat Accident Tells of Dramatic Rescue After Taking Refuge in Air Pocket

15 people were killed after an oil tanker struck the boat off the coast of Yeongheung Island.

“I thought the waves were a little rough when all of a sudden there was this huge bang, and the ship capsized,” said an individual surnamed Lee, 33, who survived after the chartered fishing boat he was on sank off the coast of Yeongheung Island. Lee recounted his experience of the accident during a phone call with the Hankyoreh on Dec. 4. Water instantly filled the boat, making it impossible to get off or escape, Lee explained.

The fishing boat, called the Seonchang-1, capsized in a collision with a refueling vessel in the waters near Incheon early in the morning on Dec. 3. Of the 22 people on the boat at the time of the accident, 15 were killed, while seven people, including Lee, were rescued. When Lee boarded the fishing boat with two friends who frequently go on such fishing trips, everything seemed normal. But just nine minutes after the boat left the port, the accident occurred.

Lee and his two friends managed to survive thanks to an air pocket that formed in the Seonchang-1’s wheelhouse. An air pocket is a compartment on a ship where survivors of an accident can breathe air trapped inside when the ship capsized. According to the Coast Guard, the Seonchang-1, which was made of fiber-reinforced plastic (FRP), did not sink completely after colliding with the oil tanker, and part of it remained above the surface of the water.

“It didn’t fill completely with water. The way I see it, if the water had been even a little deeper, it would have filled all the way up [with water]. There was just enough room for our heads. [The Coast Guard] didn’t come for an hour after we reported the accident. Anyway, [the Coast Guard] came. When they got there, we could barely breathe. We were all gasping because there wasn’t enough air,” Lee said.

As it happened, one of Lee’s friends had a waterproof cell phone, which he used to call the police on the 112 hotline at 6:10 am. Using an app on the phone, he took a screenshot of the phone’s GPS location and sent that to the police to alert them to the site of the accident. According to Lee, the tide was ebbing, which allowed more air into the pocket just when they were running low on air.

Coast Guard Rescuer

When the water started to gradually recede from the wheelhouse, the entrance to the captain’s cabin came into view. “When the water went down a little, we could see the entrance to the captain’s cabin. We figured they would hear us outside, so we shouted, ‘There are people in here!’ which is when we heard someone [outside] say, ‘Hey, there are people in there!’” Lee said. “When we got out and I looked at my watch, it was about 8:30 am.” That was more than two hours after the accident occurred. Following some tests at a hospital, Lee was discharged and is now at home. “I feel so bad for those who passed way. The accident was so sudden and unavoidable that there was no time to escape,” Lee said and paused, unable to continue.

Among the seven survivors, four fell into the water and were rescued by the crew of the oil tanker. On Dec. 3, the Coast Guard used a floating crane to lift the fishing boat, which had capsized at the scene of the accident.

Source: The hankyoreh

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