"I'm not talking about that," the crew member said. "I asked, if they evacuate now, can they be rescued right away?"
The traffic official then said patrol boats would arrive in 10 minutes, though another civilian ship was already nearby and had told controllers that it would rescue anyone who went overboard.
The ferry sank with 476 people on board, many of them students from a single high school. The cause of the disaster is not yet known, but prosecutors have said the ship made a sharp turn before it began to list. Several crew members, including the captain, have been arrested on suspicion of negligence and abandoning passengers.
More than 170 people survived the sinking of the Sewol, which had been on its way from the South Korean port city of Incheon to the southern island of Jeju. The captain took more than half an hour to issue an evacuation order, which several passengers have said they never heard.
The confirmed death toll jumped to 58 as divers finally found a way inside the sunken vessel and quickly discovered more than a dozen bodies. They had been hampered for days by strong currents, bad weather and low visibility.
Families of the missing are staying on Jindo Island, where information sheets taped to the walls of a gymnasium offered details to help identify any corpses, including gender, height, length of hair and clothing.
It was too little for Lee Joung-hwa, a friend of a crew member who is among the missing.
"If only they could have made some kind of image of the person's face. Who can tell who this person is just by height and weight?" Lee said.
A woman with a blue baseball cap shouted at government officials who were seated nearby, working at their desks. "I can't live like this! I'm so anxious!" she yelled. "How can I trust the police?"