Captain Lee Joon-seok, 69, the South Korean ferry captain now being held responsible for the sinking of the the Sewol on Wednesday has been arrested as scorn and anger over the tragedy continues to wash the nation.
Upon his arrest early Saturday morning South Korea time, Captain Lee Joon-seok defended his order to delay the evacuation of the sinking ferry. It is believed the failure to order to the immediate evacuation and release of life boats unnecessarily cost many of the student’s lives.
To date the sinking of the South Korean ferry has officially 29 people dead and more than 270 missing, while 174 individuals came to be rescued.
Nevertheless citizens and the parents of the children have gone on to unleash scorn and anger at the personnel manning the boat, believing negligence led to the sinking initially along with a failure to demand immediate evacuation. Many have also criticized the captain for being the first to evacuate without having given the order to first evacuate to passengers, primarily school children of Danwon High School.
To date the captain has been charged with abandoning his boat, negligence, causing bodily injury, not seeking rescue from other ships, and violating “seamen’s law,” state media reported.
Told prosecutor Lee Bong-chang: ‘Mr. Lee is charged with causing the Sewol ship to sink by failing to slow down while sailing the narrow route and making (a) turn excessively,’
‘Lee is also charged with failing to do the right thing to guide the passengers to escape and thereby leading to their death or injury.’
If convicted, Lee faces from five years to life in prison.
A South Korean prosecutor said Lee wasn’t at the helm of the Sewol when it started to sink; a third mate was at the helm.
The third mate has since also been apprehended.
As Lee left a court hearing he told reporters: ‘The tidal current was strong and water temperature was cold, and there was no rescue boat.’
‘So I had everyone stand by and wait for the rescue boat to arrive.’
As authorities struggle to get to the submerged wreck in murky waters, relatives of passengers have expressed increasing disgust and anger about the lack of explanation from the captain and the pace of the rescue effort.
Any hope for survival largely hinges on whether passengers may be in air pockets within the ship, which isn’t unheard of in such cases.
In the hours after the sinking, some analysts speculated the ferry may have veered off course and struck an object. But the South Korean Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries said Thursday that it had approved the boat’s intended route, and the actual course did not deviate significantly.
But Kim Soo Hyeon, chief of South Korea’s Yellow Sea Maritime Police Agency, later said the ship apparently deviated from its planned route but did not appear to have hit a rock.
With respect to the demand of ferry personnel in demanding that students remain onboard, accusations of carelessness have been laid on the shipping company Chonghaejin for reportedly having done nothing to train the crew about evacuation.
According to reports, there were not even enough life vests to go around, and the crew had no idea that the best advice was to get everybody on deck as soon as possible, ready to leap. As for a safety drill for passengers, it was alleged that this had not been carried out.
The cause of the sinking has yet to have been determined, but investigators are reportedly focusing on the actions of the captain and crew in the moments before it capsized.
Yang Jung-jin, a senior prosecutor, told the Associated Press that two crew members on the bridge of the ferry — a 25-year-old female mate and a 55-year-old helmsman — failed to reduce speed in an area with many islands clustered closely together and conducted a sharp turn. The captain was not present on the bridge at the time, something Yang said is required by law so the captain can help a mate make a turn.