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Two die in boat collision off Pohang coast

This is second recent accident, prompting questions about safety
Sept 01,2017
Two fishermen were killed in a boat collision on Thursday off the coast of Pohang, North Gyeongsang, just a day after another accident just a few kilometers away killed four fishermen.

Three went missing in the two accidents and have not been found as of Thursday press time.

At around 4:40 a.m., 125 meters (410 feet) from Pohang Old Port, a tugboat was pulling a barge toward the port when a fishing boat that was leaving the port collided with the barge.

The fishing boat was also tugging a smaller boat at a distance of 15 meters, which carried three fishermen. When the smaller fishing boat collided with the barge, the three fishermen went overboard.

“The captain of the fishing boat decided to sail in front of the tugboat, because he thought that the fishing boat and its smaller boat would be able to sail clear of its path,” said a Korea Coast Guard official.

“Two out of the three fishermen in the smaller boat were rescued and moved to a hospital but they died. We are still searching for the missing fisherman.”

On Wednesday at around 4:30 a.m., a 27-ton fishing boat capsized in waters 37 kilometers (22 miles) from Guryongpo, Pohang.

Of the nine on board, three, including the captain, were rescued. Four were found dead inside the boat, and two were still missing as of Thursday press time.

“We will investigate thoroughly why the accidents took place and whether all emergency devices and systems were working,” said Oh Yoon-yong, chief of the Coast Guard’s Pohang branch office, in a press briefing on Thursday.

Some details of the two accidents are raising questions about whether the Coast Guard and the fishing crew responded appropriately to emergency situations.

For one, none of the fishermen rescued or those found dead were wearing life vests. Also, the Coast Guard reached the capsized boat on Wednesday eight hours after it capsized.

The Coast Guard stopped receiving Maritime Mobile Service Identity signals from the boat, which are sent via its Automatic Identification System (AIS), when the boat capsized at around 4:30 a.m. It was around 12:47 p.m. when they got to the scene.

“We knew the boat stopped sending out signals of its whereabouts [at around 4:30 a.m.] but the Coast Guard isn’t dispatched whenever boats disappear from radar,” said a Coast Guard official. “We need to receive an SOS report.”

The Coast Guard was dispatched after a ship passing by saw the capsized boat at around 12:14 p.m. and reported it to authorities.

The capsized boat was equipped with V-Pass and Very-high-frequency Digital-selective-calling (VHF-DSC) devices, through which anyone can send out an SOS or coordinates of the vessel’s location.

The Fishing Vessels Act states that if any one of the V-Pass, AIS or VHF-DSC devices work on a vessel, it can set sail.

Boats have been legally required to install V-Pass devices since 2013. Based on its initial investigation, the Coast Guard suspects that the boat’s V-Pass device was broken.

The VHF-DSC unit was working, but the captain, a 58-year-old surnamed Kim, did not send out an SOS report when the boat started to tilt.

“The boat tilted to one side very quickly, and I couldn’t press the SOS button,” Kim told authorities. “I had just enough time to press the warning siren for the crew.”

The fishing boat that collided with a barge on Thursday had a working V-Pass device, but the captain, a 70-year-old surnamed Sohn, did not issue an SOS signal either.

If anyone presses the SOS button on a V-Pass, an SOS call is made immediately to the Coast Guard, and data on the whereabouts of the boat is transmitted with the call.

But Sohn called the Coast Guard on his phone.

“I think the captain was in a hurry and made the call on his phone,” said the official.

“And the two boats that collided were probably able to see where each other was located via GPS, but it seems like they couldn’t slow down in time.”

Authorities on Thursday were investigating why the fishing boat capsized on Wednesday.

The national weather forecast agency had issued a high waves and wind advisory on Wednesday morning. According to Daegu’s forecast, the waves were 2.5 to 3 meters high that morning.

“My husband told me that he called the captain to warn him about the high waves,” said a wife of a missing fisherman from the accident on Wednesday. “But the boat still set sail. I should have stopped him from going.”

“The captain is too weak to answer further questions now,” said a Coast Guard official. “It’s also possible that the boat was too heavily loaded, so much that it couldn’t balance itself after the boat tilted to one side for some reason.”

The national Coast Guard was reinstated on July 26, after three years of operating as an independent agency since the Sewol tragedy.

BY BAEK KYUNG-SEO, ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]