South Korea president says actions of ferry crew akin to murder

Of 476 people on board the Sewol, only 174 passengers, including the ferry’s captain Lee Joon-seok and most of its crew, were rescued

A South Korean navy team conduct a search operation for missing people at the site of the sunken Sewol ferry, about 20km off Jindo island yesterday.  Photograph: EPA/Kimimasa Mayama

A South Korean navy team conduct a search operation for missing people at the site of the sunken Sewol ferry, about 20km off Jindo island yesterday. Photograph: EPA/Kimimasa Mayama

Tue, Apr 22, 2014, 01:01


South Korean president Park Geun-hye has likened the actions of some crew of the sunken Sewol ferry to murder, after the boat listed due to what may have been a sharper than usual turn.

Of the 476 people on board, only 174 passengers, including the ferry’s captain Lee Joon-seok and most of its crew, were rescued. Several crew members, including the captain, took to lifeboats and left the ferry as it was sinking, ahead of the passengers, witnesses have said.

Eighty-seven 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 secondary school children.

“Above all, the conduct of the captain and some crew members is wholly unfathomable from the viewpoint of common sense, and it was like an act of murder that cannot and should not be tolerated,” Ms Park said during a meeting with senior government officials, quoted by the Yonhap news agency.

The 69-year-old captain and two other crew members have already been arrested. With tragic irony, a four-year-old video emerged showing the captain promoting the safety of the journey from the port city of Incheon to the holiday island of Jeju as safe – as long as passengers followed the instructions of the crew.

The president blamed the captain for leaving navigation in the hands of a 26-year-old third mate, who was in charge for the first time on that part of the journey, when the ferry was travelling in an area known for strong currents, and said investigators should uncover whether the ferry’s crew received proper safety training and followed safety regulations.

A transcript of an exchange shortly before the ferry sank shows crew worried there were not enough rescue boats to take all the passengers.

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

Ms Park pledged to uncover all irregularities involved in the ferry’s operations and force those responsible to take “criminal and civil” responsibilities regardless of their ranks.

“The captain did not comply with passenger evacuation orders from the vessel traffic service . . . and escaped ahead of others while telling passengers to keep their seats. This is something that is never imaginable legally or ethically,” she said.

The wider investigation will focus on how the aged vessel was imported from Japan, how it won government approval for changing its structure to increase accommodation capacity and how it obtained a licence for operation.

The sinking is expected to be one of South Korea’s deadliest maritime accidents. At the children’s school in Ansan, a satellite town of Seoul, relatives and friends have set up shrines to the dead and posted messages for the missing.

The vice-principal of the school, Kang Min-kyu (52), who was rescued, hanged himself outside the gymnasium in Jindo. His body was discovered by police on Friday and he left a message that he couldn’t bear to live when so many of his students were dead or missing.

The education office of Gyeonggi Province, which has jurisdiction over Ansan, said it is considering a memorial park for the students who died at the request of their families.