A giant offshore crane which will be used in a night rescue
operation, is seen near flares at the sea off Jindo, where
the capsized passenger ship Sewol sank. REUTERS
South Korean prosecutors investigating last week's ferry
disaster said they wanted to extend the detention of the
captain and two other crew as they try to determine the cause
of an accident that likely claimed more than 300 lives.
The Sewol ferry was on a routine 400-km voyage from Incheon
to the southern holiday island of Jeju in calm weather on
Wednesday carrying 476 passengers and crew, among them 339
children and teachers on a high school outing.
Divers gained access to the hull of the Sewol for the first
time overnight and the number of those confirmed dead rose
steadily throughout Sunday by 25 to 58 dead with 244 still
listed as missing.
A clearer picture started to emerge of the time around the
capsize after coastguards released a recording of a
conversation between vessel controllers and the ship.
Witnesses have said the Sewol turned sharply before it began
listing. It is still not clear why the vessel turned.
It took more than two hours for it to capsize completely but
passengers were ordered to stay put in their cabins.
According to the transcript, at 9.25 a.m. the controllers
told the 69-year old Captain Lee Joon-seok to "decide how
best to evacuate the passengers" and that he should "make the
final decision on whether or not to evacuate".
Lee was not on the bridge when the ship turned. Navigation
was in the hands of a 26-year old third mate who was in
charge for the first time in the passage, according to crew
The transcript shows crew on the ship worried there were not
enough rescue boats at the scene to take on all the
passengers. Witnesses said the captain and some crew members
took to rescue boats before the passengers.
Lee said earlier he feared that passengers would be swept
away by the ferocious currents if they leapt into the sea,
but he has not explained why he left the vessel.
Prosecutor Yang Joong-jin told a news conference in Mokpo,
one of the centres for the investigation, that some of the
crew said they had not received any safety training.
"We are trying to find out if there is additional
negligence," Prosecutor Yang Joong-jin told a news conference
in Mokpo, one of the centres for the investigation, speaking
of the captain and crew.
When the captain and two crew were arrested on Saturday, they
were detained by police for 10 days and prosecutors for a
further 10. If the new extension request is granted, they
could be detained for 30 days.
Yang said that prosecutors had also summoned 10 other people
to give evidence, including other crew from the Sewol and
officials from the ferry's owner, Chonghaejin Marine Co Ltd.
More divers managed to gain access to the stricken ship on
Sunday as guide ropes were installed to help them through the
tricky and fast currents in the area, although for many of
those waiting in Jindo the recovery was still not quick
Relatives of those listed as missing, but who are now
presumed to be dead, clashed briefly with police when about
100 of them tried to leave the island by a road bridge to the
mainland to take their protest to the capital city of Seoul.
Police blocked them and they later turned back.
"Bring me the body," weeping mother Bae Sun-ok said of her
child as she was comforted by two policemen at the bridge.
Later on Sunday, the Minister for the Oceans and Fisheries
Lee Ju-young was jostled and booed by relatives, more than
500 of whom have spent four days and nights cooped up in a
gymnasium in the port city of Jindo, which is the centre of
the rescue operation.
Tempers have frayed over the slow pace of the recovery and
frequent changes in information.
President Park Geun-hye was booed by some of the relatives
when she visited the gym.
Pupils at the school in Ansan, a gritty commuter town, set up
shrines to the dead and posted messages for the missing.
The vice-principal of the school, who was on the ferry and
survived the capsize, hanged himself outside the gymnasium in
Jindo in another blow to the school. His body was discovered
by police on Friday.
The sinking looks set to be the country's worst maritime
disaster in 21 years in terms of loss of life.