South Korean President Park Geun-hye says the captain and some crew members of the sunken ferry committed ‘unforgivable, murderous acts’ in the disaster, which left more than 300 people dead or missing.
The captain initially told passengers to stay in their rooms and waited more than half an hour to issue an evacuation order as the ferry Sewol sank on Wednesday. By then the ship had tilted so much that many of the roughly 200 people still missing are believed to have been trapped inside.
The captain, as well as six crew members, are currently in custody.
The cause of the disaster is not yet known, but prosecutors have said the ship made a sharp turn before it began to list.
Park said at a Cabinet briefing on Monday that the captain and crew “told the passengers to stay put but they themselves became the first to escape, after deserting the passengers.” She says that “legally and ethically, this is an unimaginable act” and added that it was akin to murder.
The president’s strong statement comes in the wake of furious criticism from the families of the victims who have condemned the official response to the disaster, saying the initial rescue effort was inadequate and mismanaged.
Confusion as ship tilted
A transcript of the final radio communications between the Sewol and marine transport control released Sunday underlined the confusion after the vessel began to tilt to one side.
Marine control ordered the crew to ensure all passengers were wearing life jackets, while a crew member repeatedly questioned whether vessels were on hand to rescue people once they started to abandon ship.
"Make them wear a life ring at least. Now!" the control official insisted.
In the end, the evacuation order was only given around 40 minutes after the ship ran into trouble, by which time it was listing so heavily that escape was almost impossible.
"Precious minutes just wasted," was the front page verdict of the Dong-A Ilbo daily on Monday.
Four more arrests
Meanwhile, a South Korean prosecutor said four more crewmembers have been detained on allegations of failing to protect passengers.
Senior prosecutor Ahn Sang-don told reporters Monday that two first mates, one second mate and a chief engineer are also accused of abandoning the ship.
Ahn says prosecutors are considering whether to ask a court for a formal arrest warrant that would allow for a longer period of investigation. South Koreans can only be detained for 48 hours without a court-issued formal arrest warrant.
The ferry’s captain and two other crewmembers were previously formally arrested on suspicion of negligence and abandoning people in need.
Response to families’ anger
Early Sunday, about 100 relatives attempted a long protest march to the presidential Blue House in Seoul, about 400 kilometers to the north, saying they wanted to voice their complaints directly to the president. They walked for about six hours before police officers in neon jackets blocked a main road.
“The government is the killer,” they shouted as they pushed against a police barricade. Families on Sunday also blocked the prime minister’s car and cursed at and shoved the fisheries minister.
“We want an answer from the person in charge about why orders are not going through and nothing is being done,” said Lee Woon-geun, father of 17-year-old missing passenger Lee Jung-in. “They are clearly lying and kicking the responsibility to others.”
More than 100 bodies have been recovered, and about 200 people are still missing.
The confirmed death toll climbed over the weekend after divers finally found a way inside the sunken vessel and quickly discovered more than a dozen bodies. They had been hampered for days by strong currents, bad weather and low visibility.
Many relatives of the missing have been staying in a gymnasium on Jindo island, but dozens of relatives have started camping out at the port there to be closer to where the search was taking place, sleeping in tents.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP)
Date created : 2014-04-21