Members of a Christian group pray for missing passengers
who were on the South Korean ferry Sewol. REUTERS/Issei
South Korean President Park Geun-hye said today the
actions of the captain and crew of a ferry that sank last week
with hundreds feared dead were tantamount to murder, as
authorities arrested four more officers of the vessel.
Sixty-four people are known to have died and 238 are missing,
presumed dead, in the sinking of the Sewol ferry last
Wednesday. Most of the victims are high school children.
Captain Lee Joon-seok, 69, and two other crew members were
arrested last week on negligence charges, with prosecutors
announcing four further arrests - two first mates, one second
mate and a chief engineer - on Monday.
Several crew members, including the captain, left the ferry
as it was sinking, ahead of the passengers, witnesses have
Park said the crew's desertion was tantamount to murder.
"Above all, the conduct of the captain and some crew members
is unfathomable from the viewpoint of common sense, and it
was like an act of murder that cannot and should not be
tolerated," Yonhap news agency quoted her as saying during a
meeting with aides.
Lee, the captain, said in a promotional video four years ago
that the journey from the port city of Incheon to the holiday
island of Jeju was safe - as long as passengers followed the
instructions of the crew.
He also told a newspaper that he had been involved in a sea
accident off Japan years before.
The irony of the video is the crew ordered the passengers to
stay put in their cabins as the ferry sank. As is customary
in hierarchical Korean society, the orders were not
However, many of those who escaped alive either did not hear
or flouted the instructions and were rescued as they jumped
off the deck.
Of the 476 passengers and crew on board, 339 were children
and teachers on a high school outing.
"Passengers who take our ship to and from Incheon and Jeju
can enjoy a safe and pleasant trip and I believe it is safer
than any other vehicle as long as they follow the
instructions of our crew members," Lee said in the 2010
promotional video, according to transcripts broadcast by
regional cable station OBS.
The Jeju Today newspaper interviewed Lee in 2004 when he
spoke of close shaves at sea including passing through a
typhoon and a previous sinking off Japan.
"The first ship I took was a log carrier vessel and it
capsized near Okinawa. A helicopter from Japan's Self-Defence
Force came and rescued me. Had it not been for their help, I
wouldn't be here now."
The newspaper did not give further details.
Parents of the children missing in the accident in what is
likely to turn out to be one of South Korea's worst maritime
disasters sat exhausted from days of grief on Monday, waiting
for the almost inevitable news that their loved ones had
The have spent all their time since the accident in a
gymnasium in the port city of Jindo, taking it in turns to
vent their anger at the crew's inaction and slow pace of the
One of those waiting in the gymnasium was Kim Chang-gu, whose
son Kim Dong-hyup is among the missing.
"I dream about him and hear hallucinatory sounds," he told
Reuters. "Somebody told me he was alive but I now have given
up. I know how he said 'Dad'. I keep hearing that."
Divers are retrieving the bodies at a faster pace and some
parents have moved from the gymnasium to the pier to await
Others stay put on their mattresses in the gym, where one by
one, parents are informed that a body matches the family DNA
swab, prompting wailing and collapses.
Two US underwater drones have been deployed in the search for
bodies, a coastguard official said. Strong tides hampered
operations overnight but the weather was better on Monday.
A clearer picture has started to emerge of the time around
the accident 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, the controllers told the captain
to "decide how best to evacuate the passengers" and that he
should "make the final decision on whether or not to
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 on that part of the journey,
according to crew members.
The transcript shows crew on the ship worried there were not
enough rescue boats to take 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. He
has not explained why he left the vessel.
Pupils at the children's school in Ansan, a gritty commuter
town on the outskirts of Seoul, set up shrines to the dead
and posted messages for the missing.
The vice-principal of the school, who survived the accident,
hanged himself outside the gymnasium in Jindo in another blow
to the school. His body was discovered by police on