News / Asia

Captain of Sunken South Korean Ferry Arrested by Police

South Korea Arrests Captain of Sunken Ferryi
Zlatica Hoke
April 19, 2014 2:23 AM
South Korean police have formally arrested the captain and two crew members of a ferry that sank Wednesday morning off the country's southwestern coast with more than 470 people on board, most of them high school students. Twenty-eight people have been confirmed dead so far, and close to 300 are believed to be trapped inside the ship. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports.
Related video report by VOA's Zlatica Hoke
Daniel Schearf
South Korean police have formally arrested the captain and two crew members of a doomed ferry, on charges of deserting their passengers shortly after the vessel capsized Wednesday and sank.

Investigators allege the 69-year-old captain failed to carry out his duty to protect passengers when, according to witnesses, he was one of the first to leave the sinking ship.  A report by South Korea's Yonhap news agency said the captain also is suspected of instructing passengers to remain seated, even as the ferry began rolling onto its side and blocking escape routes.

The ferry Sewol went down off the southwestern island of Jindo with 476 people on board.

Thirty-six people are confirmed dead, and 266 others - many of them high school students - remain unaccounted for as hope diminishes for finding more survivors. One hundred seventy-four others have been rescued, but none since Wednesday.

According to South Korean prosecutors, the 26-year-old third mate left to steer a doomed ferry through a treacherous waterway was navigating the area for the first time when the vessel listed on its side and sank with hundreds on board.

Yonhap reported that a team of 21 divers tried to enter a cabin on the submerged second deck of the five-deck ferry, where most of the passengers are believed to be trapped 35 meters below the surface.  But the report said the divers, battling strong underwater currents, surfaced 14 minutes later without having gained entry.

More than 500 divers are working on the rescue teams.  Many of them are civilian volunteers. Experts say people theoretically could survive for up to 72 hours if there are air pockets in the submerged compartments.

Authorities have not established the cause of the disaster. But some survivors report hearing a loud impact noise before the vessel rolled onto its side and began sinking.

The Yonhap report said the third officer is suspected of making a sharp turn while piloting the ship through a narrow route.  Investigators are quoted as saying the sudden turn may have caused 180 vehicles and nearly 1,200 tons of freight to shift and disrupt the balance of the vessel before it began to list.

Heavy fog was reported in the area on Tuesday evening, but it is not known whether that was a contributing factor.

President Barack Obama has sent his condolences to the families and says he will pay tribute to them during a visit to South Korea next week.

Meanwhile, hopes for survivors is fading. Anxiety and anger are growing among relatives of the missing, most of them high school students. Workers at Paengmok Harbor tried to console a parent of one of the missing high school children believed trapped inside the capsized ferry.
Despite earlier reports of success, rescue divers failed on their third day of attempting to get to passengers inside the ship, just 20 kilometers off shore. Oxygen was pumped into the ship in hopes it would reach any survivors. Divers later tried entering a cargo hold but were not able to go further, in a struggle against wreckage, strong currents and murky water.
A Buddhist monk prays for the missing passengers who were on the South Korean ferry Sewol, Jindo April 18, 2014. (Sungmin Do/VOA)A Buddhist monk prays for the missing passengers who were on the South Korean ferry Sewol, Jindo April 18, 2014. (Sungmin Do/VOA)
A Buddhist monk prays for the missing passengers who were on the South Korean ferry Sewol, Jindo April 18, 2014. (Sungmin Do/VOA)
A Buddhist monk prays for the missing passengers who were on the South Korean ferry Sewol, Jindo April 18, 2014. (Sungmin Do/VOA)
Hundreds of volunteers and emergency workers at the harbor tried to comfort distraught relatives angry at the lack of progress and misinformation.
Parents of the missing demanded a road be cleared for any who might be rescued. Authorities quickly obliged, marching in a column of police.
Lee Min-seok, a rescue team captain with the Mokpo Firefighters, explained that the police presence is to keep crowds away so roads are clear enough for ambulances to pass through.
Several ambulances were readied nearby with flashing lights, but the display was cold comfort.
Vice principal commits suicide

Police say a high school vice principal rescued from the ferry has committed suicide.

Kang Min-kyu, 52, had been the leader of a group of at least 325 students traveling on the ferry on a school trip. Police say he was found Friday hanging by his belt from a tree near a gym on the island of Jindo where survivors and relatives of those missing have been staying. He is said to have left a suicide note saying he felt guilty for being alive.

Authorities have prepared cranes to try to lift the ferry, but relatives demanded they wait until there is certainty that none are alive. Government, volunteer, and donor tents and food trucks are wrapped around the harbor.
Seo Joon-baek, a Salvation Army officer, said they are preparing food for about 500 people every day.

VOA Seoul Bureau Producer Youmi Kim contributed to this report.
  • Family members of passengers missing on the overturned South Korean ferry Sewol react at the port in Jindo.
  • South Korean relatives of passengers on board a capsized ferry react as they wait for news at a gym in Jindo.
  • Rescue boats sail around the South Korean ferry "Sewol" which sank, during the rescue operation in the sea off Jindo. South Korean coastguard and navy divers resumed searching on Thursday for people still missing, many of them students from the same high school, after a ferry capsized in sight of land.
  • Customs officers look at confiscated counterfeit FIFA World Cup replica trophies in Yiwu, Zhejiang province, China, April 16, 2014. The local customs office seized a total of 1,020 unauthorized FIFA World Cup replica trophies before they were shipped out to Libya.
  • A boy with a toy gun poses for a picture in front of barricades at the police headquarters in the eastern Ukrainian town of Slaviansk.
  • Firemen try to extinguish a fire as houses burn in a squatter colony in Quezon City, Metro Manila.
  • A masked flagellant lies prostrate on the ground as he prays outside a chapel during a Maundy ritual by penitents to atone for sins in Angeles, Pampanga north of Manila.
  • People cross the Chenab river on a trolley tied to wires to cast their vote at Harshi village in Doda district, north of Jammu, India.
  • An Indian Muslim woman displays her inked thumb after casting her vote at a polling station in Bangalore.
  • A Pakistani Christian woman fills jerry cans with water from a hand pump at a slum area of Islamabad.
  • A diver dressed as the Easter Bunny swims among sharks, rays and other species of fish in the Shipwreck habitat at the South East Asia Aquarium of Resorts World Sentosa, a popular tourist attraction in Singapore. The performance is part of the Easter celebrations.
  • Cleo a white Bengal tiger looks through the glass of her enclosure at the Buenos Aires Zoo, Argentina, April 16, 2014.
  • A man surfs with his kite in the Mediterranean sea at the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, during the vacation of the Jewish holiday of Passover.

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Comment Sorting
by: A-Rod from: New Zealand
April 28, 2014 9:45 PM
So it sank on April 16? Jeez this would wreak of irony if it happened a day earlier on April 15 - the 102nd anniversary of the RMS Titanic's dreadful sinking. My heart goes out to the victims of both ships. I am a bit of a shipping fanatic, yes I'm a Titanic historian. I was researching the sinking of the MY Ady Gil, sunk two days after a collision with a whaling ship in early 2010 when I first heard about what happened in S. Korea. Heartbreaking stuff, this.

by: Joseph Effiong from: nigeria
April 19, 2014 8:22 AM
It was so saddened reading this shocking event. As human we have to leave this to God. I am praying that God should consoles and strengthened the families that lost their loves one.

by: murali from: Bangalore
April 18, 2014 10:45 AM
Absolutely shocking to hear of the S.Korean disaster which took away the lives of as many as 270 school kids.Normally one associates this kind of tragedy and this level of loss of lives with countries which are not developed or developing. But S.Korea is not in the same league and being home to the likes of global tech champions like Samsung, Hyundai etc , one expected the country to have rigorous and better standars of saftey and regulation.My prayers and sympathies with the families of those who perished in the tragedy.
In Response

by: Mark from: Virginia
April 19, 2014 7:35 AM
Developed or not, countries contain humans, and humans are prone to error and lapses in judgment. Human Error is prevalent everywhere.
Condolences to the families of those still missing, nonetheless.

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