South Korea's President Park Geun-Hye has criticized the captain and crew of a passenger ferry for abandoning ship while it sank with hundreds on board, equating their action to “murder.”
The captain and at least six crew members have been arrested. Recovery teams have retrieved 87 bodies so far, while 210 remain missing.
The death toll from the sunken Sewol ferry rose rapidly Monday as divers were able to move deeper into the capsized ship and recover more bodies.
South Korea's President Park Geun-hye at a morning meeting had strong words for those in charge of the passenger ferry.
She says the conduct of the captain and some crew members is unfathomable, from the viewpoint of common sense, and it was like an act of murder that cannot and should not be tolerated. The captain failed to follow evacuation orders from the Jindo Vessel Traffic Services Center immediately after the accident, she says. Crew members told the passengers to stay where they were but then escaped themselves. She says this is legally and ethically unimaginable.
The captain, Lee Joon-seok, and several crew members are under arrest and facing charges of negligence and violating maritime law.
The ferry sank Wednesday with 476 people on board, most of them high school students on a school trip. Rescue ships saved 179 as the ship went down but, despite fervent attempts, no one has been saved since.
Rescue efforts were hampered by strong currents and murky water. Wreckage and debris also prevented divers from entering passenger areas of the ferry until late Saturday.
Days of anguish are turning to grief for the hundreds of relatives of victims camped on the floor of Jindo's gymnasium.
Kim Ha-na's brother was on the ferry, one of 338 students and teachers from Danwon High-School in Ansan just south of Seoul.
She says she had hope but now she feels complicated and heavy-hearted. Even though air is being pumped into the ship, she says, any suvrivors have had no food or water for six days. She wonders if her brother can still be alive.
It is still not clear what caused the 6,300-ton ship to sink. Survivors reported hearing a loud noise before it began to list, prompting speculatation the ferry could have hit a submerged rock. But investigators are also looking into the possibility that cargo, including numerous vehicles, came loose during a sharp turn and threw the ferry off-balance. South Korean media reports say investigators are also considering recent repairs to the ship and its structural integrity.
President Park on Sunday declared Jindo and Ansan special disaster zones in order to fast-track emergency support.
Family members of a missing passenger from the capsized passenger ferry, Sewol, wait for news of the rescue operation at a makeshift accommodation, in the port city of Jindo, April 23, 2014.
Women wearing protective suits spray antiseptic solution around the tents of volunteers who distribute food and necessities for relatives of missing passengers of Sewol, in Jindo, April 23, 2014.
People pray during a candlelight vigil to commemorate the victims of capsized passenger ferry Sewol and to wish for the safe return of missing passengers, in Ansan, Korea, April 23, 2014.
Satellite trucks for members of the press reporting on the sunken ferry, Sewol, in Jindo, April 18, 2014. (Sungmin Do/VOA)
A Buddhist monk prays for the missing passengers who were on the South Korean ferry, Sewol. Family members, rescue staff and members of the press gather at the port, Jindo, April 18, 2014. (Sungmin Do/VOA)
A rescue diver jumps in near the buoys installed to mark the location of the sunken ferry Sewol off the southern coast, near Jindo, April 18, 2014.
This giant offshore crane will be used in the rescue operation of the capsized passenger ferry Sewol. Seen here, it is moving into position as members of the South Korean Navy's SSU (Ship Salvage Unit) take part in the rescue operation, Jindo, April 18, 2014.
A family member of a missing passenger on South Korean ferry Sewol cries as she waits for news from a rescue team, Jindo, April 18, 2014.
A family member of missing passengers who were on the Sewol ferry looks toward the site of the incident, Jindo, April 18, 2014.