21 Apr 2014

South Korean ferry crew’s conduct ‘like murder’

The actions of some crew members as the South Korean ferry sank were tantamount to murder, the country’s president says. The disaster’s confirmed death toll is now 64, with 238 missing, presumed dead.

Park Geun-hye spoke as it emerged that four more members of the crew were arrested on Monday, taking the total to seven – including the ferry’s captain.

“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,” the Yonhap news agency quoted Park as saying during a meeting with aides.

Prosecutors said that two first mates, one second mate and a chief engineer were now in custody, Reuters reported.

The Sewol ferry capsized last week in circumstances that remain unclear. It emerged that the captain, 69-year-old Lee Joon-seok was not on the bridge and the 26-year-old third mate was navigating that part of the journey for the first time.

I know how he said ‘Dad’. I keep hearing that. Father of missing passenger

Investigators said they wanted to hold the captain for a further 10 days, in order to figure out the cause of the sinking.

A transcript of a conversation between vessel controllers and the ship has shed some light on why the ship may have gone down. Witnesses have said the Sewol turned sharply before it began listing, although it is still not clear why the vessel turned.

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 evacuate”.

It took more than two hours for it to capsize completely but passengers were ordered to stay put in their cabins.

The transcript shows crew on the ship worried there were not enough rescue boats to take all the passengers, Reuters reported. 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.

‘Given up’

Parents of the children missing are still in the gym in the port city Jindo, where they have been since the sinking. 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.”

According to reports, 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 the Jeju Today newspaper that he had been involved in a sea accident off Japan years before.