Jeju (AsiaNews) - The country as a whole "is in a state of great sorrow and anxiety," said Mgr Peter Kang U-il, bishop of Jeju and president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Korea
Speaking to AsiaNews about yesterday's capsizing of civilian ferry Sewol, he said the event is especially sad "because among the victims of this terrible tragedy there are also several teenagers on an outing". Now, "all we can do for them and their worried families is to pray, and hope that our prayers and solidarity can somehow bring some comfort".
Initially, South Korean authorities had reported that only two people - a crewmember and a student - had died with about a hundred missing.
However, as the day progressed, the picture became bleaker. Now, nine people are known to have died with 300 people still missing.
Officials confirmed that 179 people have been rescued, but some 475 people were on board. Dozens of survivors are critically injured.
The rescue operation has been slowed down by rough seas and high winds. About 169 vessels and 29 aircraft are involved using their electronic equipment but divers have been unable to go into the sea.
Speaking about the tragedy, President Park Geun-hye urged rescuers to "hurry", that that every minute and every second counted.
However, "Despite the authorities' best efforts," Mgr Kang said, "the hope to rescue more passengers alive is diminishing by the hour. And the sea," he noted, "is really rough, and this does not help."
"Survivors are truly traumatised by what they went through," the prelate added. "We can only pray to the Lord to help the victims and their families, and hope that prayers and solidarity can somehow bring some comfort to all the people involved in this disaster."