President says South Korea ferry crew's actions 'tantamount to murder'
SEOUL - Agence France-Presse
Family members of missing passengers who were on the South Korean passenger ferry Sewol look toward the sea at a port where family members of missing passengers have gathered in Jindo. REUTERS PhotoThe captain and crew of a South Korean ferry that capsized last week with hundreds of children on board acted in a way "tantamount to murder," President Park Guen-hye said April 21, as four more crew members were arrested.
Park's denunciation, in which she vowed to hold all those responsible for the disaster "criminally accountable," followed the release of a transcript showing the panic and indecision that paralysed decision-making on the bridge as the 6,825-ton Sewol listed and capsized on the morning of April 16.
The confirmed death toll stood at 64 but was expected to rise dramatically with 238 of the 476 people on board still unaccounted for.
"The actions of the captain and some crew members were utterly incomprehensible, unacceptable and tantamount to murder," Park said in a meeting with senior aides.
"Not only my heart, but the hearts of all South Koreans have been broken and filled with shock and anger," said Park, who was heckled on April 17 when she met relatives of the hundreds of passengers still missing – most of them schoolchildren.
The families have criticized the official response to the disaster, saying the initial rescue effort was inadequate and mismanaged.
The president said it was increasingly clear that Captain Lee Joon-seok 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.
Four more crew detained
South Korean prosecutors detained four more crew members on April 21 in a widening investigation into the ferry disaster.
Yonhap news agency cited prosecutors as saying three officers and one engineer from the Sewol had been taken into police custody, following the arrest at the weekend of the captain and two other crew members.
Lee was arrested on April 19 along with a helmsman and the ship's relatively inexperienced third officer, who was in charge of the bridge when the ship first ran into trouble.
They were charged on counts ranging from criminal negligence to violation of maritime law.
The four detained April 21 could face similar charges, the prosecutors told Yonhap.
Korea ferry captain promised 'safe journey' in 2010 video
The captain took part in a promotional video four years ago in which he said marine transport was safe as long as passengers followed orders. Excerpts from the video have since been played on local news channels.
Survivors said the crew instructed them to stay put even as the Sewol listed dramatically, delaying evacuation that could have saved many lives.
Lee and most of his crew escaped before the ferry fully capsized with hundreds still trapped inside.
In the 2010 video, a smiling Lee, clad in his captain's whites, promised a "safe and comfortable" journey from the western port of Incheon to the southern resort island of Jeju – the same route plied by the ill-fated Sewol.
"I think [a ferry] is safer than any other public transportation – as long as you follow the instruction of our crew," Lee said.
A transcript released April 20 of the final radio communications between the Sewol and marine transport control indicated panic and indecision on the bridge as the ship began to sink.
At one point, marine control reminded Lee that the decision on when to evacuate was his alone to take.
"When it comes to evacuation, you, captain, make the final judgement," the controller said.
Lee has apologized to the families of the victims, saying he was worried the passengers would be swept away if they evacuated too early.