South Korean President Park Geun-hye yesterday said that the actions of some of the crew of a ferry that sank with hundreds aboard were tantamount to murder, as a four-year-old video transcript showed the vessel’s captain promoting the safety of the ill-fated route.
Sixty-four people have been confirmed dead and 238 are missing, presumed dead, in the sinking of the Sewol on Wednesday last week. Most of the victims were high-school students and teachers.
Captain Lee Joon-seok, 69, and two other crew members were arrested on Saturday on negligence charges and prosecutors yesterday announced four more arrests — of two first mates, a second mate and a chief engineer.
Lee was also charged with undertaking an “excessive change of course without slowing down” while traversing a narrow channel.
Several crew, including Lee, left the sinking ferry ahead of the passengers, witnesses have said.
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,” she told her aides.
Transcripts of the 2010 promotional video broadcast by regional cable station OBS have Lee saying: “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 was not referring to the Sewol, which started serving that route last year.
The irony is that the crew ordered the passengers to stay in their cabins as the Sewol sank. As is customary in South Korea’s hierarchical society, the orders went mostly questioned. Many of those who escaped either did not hear or flouted the instructions and were rescued as they abandoned ship.
Of the 476 passengers and crew on board, 339 were children and teachers on a high-school outing.
In 2004, Lee told the Jeju Today newspaper of his close shaves at sea, including a previous sinking off Japan’s coast.
“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,” he was reported as saying.
Parents of the children missing in the accident sat exhausted from days of grief yesterday in Jindo, waiting for the almost inevitable news that their loved ones had died.
Divers are retrieving the bodies faster and some parents moved from the gym where relatives have been camped out since the accident to Jindo’s pier to await news.
Others stayed put in the gym, where one by one, relatives are being informed that a body matches a family DNA swab, prompting wailing and collapses.
Two US drones have been deployed in the search, a South Korean coast guard official said.