Lee Joon-seok faces questions from journalists as he leaves
court in Mokpo. REUTERS/Yonhap
The captain of a ferry that sank off South Korea's
southwestern tip with hundreds feared dead said in a
promotional video four years ago that the journey was safe - as
long as passengers followed the instructions of the crew.
The irony is the crew ordered the passengers, mostly high
school children, to stay put in their cabins as the ferry
sank last Wednesday. As is customary in hierarchical Korean
society, the orders were not questioned.
However, many of those who escaped alive either did not hear
or flouted the instructions and were rescued as they jumped
off the deck.
Sixty-four people are known to have died and 238 are missing,
presumed dead in the upturned hull of the stricken Sewol
ferry. Captain Lee Joon-seok, 69, and other crew members have
Of the 476 passengers and crew on board, 339 were children
and teachers on a high school outing.
Lee made a promotional video in 2010 in which he highlighted
the safety of the journey from the port city of Incheon to
the holiday island of Jeju.
"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," he said in transcripts
broadcast by regional cable station OBS.
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 is 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 as others look on in
Kim Chang-gu, father of one of the missing, said parents no
longer trusted the news or government or even each other.
They even fight each other when things get tense.
Now that a few days have passed, the general mood at the gym
is people are tired of waiting.
Two U.S. underwater drones have been deployed in the search
for bodies, a coastguard official said. Strong tides hampered
operations overnight but the weather outlook was better for
CONFUSION ON THE BRIDGE
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, at 9.25 a.m. 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 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. 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.