South Korean leader condemns ferry crew as death toll rises | News | DW | 21.04.2014
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South Korean leader condemns ferry crew as death toll rises

South Korea's president has accused the captain and some crew on board the capsized ferry of "unforgivable and murderous" behavior. Her own government has also come under fire for its handling of the disaster.

President Park Guen-hye said the captain and crew members acted in a way that was "tantamount to murder."

She said those found responsible for the disaster would be held criminally accountable.

The confirmed death toll now stands at 104, with divers still searching for 215 people who remain unaccounted for. Most were students on a class trip.

The vessel's captain, Lee Joon-seok, and four other crew members were arrested. Two others have since been detained.

Lee faces five charges including negligence of duty and violation of maritime law.

Park said it had become increasingly clear that Lee had unnecessarily delayed the evacuation of passengers as the ferry started sinking, and then "deserted them" by escaping with most of his crew members.

"This is utterly unimaginable, legally and ethically," she said.

Transcript reveals confusion

Passengers have reported that they were told to remain on the sinking vessel for up to 40 minutes before the evacuation call was given. Lee was then photographed among the first to be rescued.

The captain has said the call was delayed as rescue vessels had not yet arrived. He said the current was strong, the water was cold and he was afraid passengers would have drifted away.

A transcript released on Sunday, documenting a conversation between a crew member and a maritime traffic controller, appeared to show confusion about the emergency procedure aboard the vessel.

The crew member asked repeatedly whether the passengers would be rescued quickly if they abandoned the ship, saying it was "impossible to broadcast" instructions.

He added that crew and passengers were unable to move around the ship freely because the ship had listed so badly.

Official response criticized

But the finger of blame has not only been pointed at the captain and crew.

Relatives of the 476 people on board the boat have reported that the initial rescue operation was inadequate and mismanaged.

They issued a statement saying that hours after the ship sank there was no government representative present to brief them on the situation. They also said that various ministries had set up "central emergency centers" across the country without coordinating their efforts and that many officials leading relief efforts weren't sufficiently trained.

There has also been little explanation as to why an initial government statement announced that 378 passengers had been saved. The real figure turned out to be 174.

Investigators are still looking into what caused the ferry to list sharply and sink in what appeared to be calm water.

It has emerged that an inexperienced third mate was at the helm at the time of the accident.

It has been reported that the boat turned sharply before it began sinking, although no explanation for this has yet been made public.

ccp/kms (AFP, Reuters, AP)

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