Captain of capsized ferry arrested

Lee Joon-Seok (C) arrives at a court in Mokpo. REUTERS/Yonhap
Lee Joon-Seok (C) arrives at a court in Mokpo. REUTERS/Yonhap
The captain of a South Korean ferry that capsized, leaving 29 people dead and 274 others missing, has been arrested, the country's Yonhap news agency says.

Yonhap said Captain Lee Joon-seok, 69, faced five charges including negligence of duty and violation of maritime law.

Investigators had said earlier that Lee was not on the bridge at the time the Sewol ferry started to list sharply on Wednesday, with a junior officer at the wheel. Arrest warrants were issued on Friday for Lee, the officer at the wheel and one other crew member for failing in their duty to aid passengers.

"I'm
not sure where the captain was before the accident. However, right
after the accident, I saw him rushing back into the steering house ahead
of me," said Oh Young-seok, one of the helmsmen on the ship who was off
duty and resting at the time.

"He calmly asked by how much the
ship was tilted, and tried to re-balance the ship," said Oh, who was
speaking from a hospital bed in the city of Mokpo on Friday, where the
injured have been taken.

The Sewol, carrying 476 passengers and crew, capsized on Wednesday on a journey from the port of Incheon to the southern holiday island of Jeju.

NORMAL PRACTICE

Handing over the
helm is normal practice on the voyage from Incheon to Jeju, which
usually takes 13.5 hours, according to local shipping crew.

Divers
gained access to the cargo deck of the ferry on Friday, although that
was not close to the passenger quarters, according to a coastguard
official.

Other coastguard officials said that divers made several attempts to reach the passenger areas but failed.

"We
cannot even see the ship's white colour. Our people are just touching
the hull with their hands," Kim Chun-il, a diver from Undine Marine
Industries, told relatives of the missing.

The ferry went down in
calm conditions and was following a frequently travelled route in
familiar waters. Although relatively close to shore, the area was free
of rocks and reefs.

Lee has not commented on when he left the ship, although he has apologised for the loss of life.

He
was described as an industry veteran by the officials from Chonghaejin
Marine Co Ltd, the ship owner, and others who had met him described him
as an "expert".

"I don't know why he abandoned the ship like
that," said Ju Hi-chun, a maritime author who interviewed the captain in
2006 as one of the experts on the route to Jeju island.

But he
added: "Koreans don't have the view that they have to stay with their
ship until the end. It is a different culture from the West."

Some media reports have said the vessel turned sharply, causing cargo to shift and the ship to list before capsizing.

Marine
investigators and the coastguard have said it was too early to pinpoint
a cause for the accident and declined to comment on the possibility of
the cargo shifting.

The record of the ferry owner was also under investigation and documents were removed from its headquarters in Incheon.

Chonghaejin
Marine Co Ltd is an unlisted company that operates five ships. It
reported an operating loss of 785 million won ($756,000) last year.

According
to data from South Korea's Financial Supervisory Service, a government
body, Chonghaejin is "indirectly" owned by two sons of the owner of a
former shipping company called Semo Marine which went bankrupt in 1997.

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