Passengers abandon fiery ferry

2011-09-06 07:26

Seoul - More than 120 people abandoned a ferry that caught fire off South Korea's southern coast early on Tuesday, many of them by jumping into the water before being rescued, the coastguard and reports said.

The 4 000-ton Seolbong, bound southwest from Busan to Jeju island, was near Yeosu on the south coast of the mainland when fire broke out in the hold.

The coastguard sent dozens of patrol boats. All 128 people on board the ferry evacuated the smouldering vessel, starting with the old, children and pregnant women, MBC TV said.

Many passengers descended ropes and jumped into the water before being rescued. Dazed and exhausted, faces blackened by smoke, the passengers were later dropped off at Yeosu port, the TV said.

Seven people were slightly injured and taken to hospital for treatment, the coastguard said.

It was not immediately clear what started the fire but a crew member said he had seen smoke billowing out of the hold. An investigation was under way.