Friday 19 December 2014

Captain of tragic South Korean ship now "behind bars"

Hopes fading for 268 missing passengers

Published 18/04/2014 | 12:27

The captain of the South Korean ship that sank leaving 25 dead and hundreds missing has been arrested

According to South Korean news agency Yonhap, Lee Joon-Seok was now "behind bars".

It said he faces five charges, including negligence of duty and violation of maritime law, and was detained with two other crew members.

Rescuers are struggling to find about 270 people still missing and feared dead.

At least 28 bodies have been recovered.

Officials said there were 179 survivors and about 270 people remain missing, many of them high school students.

Earlier today, the vice-principal of a South Korean high school who accompanied hundreds of pupils on a ferry that capsized has committed suicide, police said on Friday, as hopes faded of finding any of the 274 missing alive.

The Sewol, carrying 476 passengers and crew, capsized on Wednesday on a journey from the port of Incheon to the southern holiday island of Jeju.

Kang Min-gyu, 52, had been missing since Thursday. He appeared to have hanged himself with his belt from a tree outside a gym in the port city of Jindo where relatives of the people missing on the ship, mostly children from the school, were gathered.

Police said Kang did not leave a suicide note and that they had started looking for him after he was reported missing by a fellow teacher. He was rescued from the ferry after it capsized.

Twenty-eight people had been officially declared dead before Kang's suicide. One hundred and seventy-four were rescued. Most of the missing are students from the Danwon High School on the outskirts of Seoul, who were on a holiday trip.

The government revised the total number of passengers and the number of people rescued, saying there had been further inaccuracies in tabulation, without elaborating.

Divers are fighting strong tides and murky waters to get to the sunken ship. The likelihood of finding any of the missing alive is slim.

At the high school in Ansan, an industrial town near Seoul, many friends and family of the missing gathered in sombre silence, with occasional sounds of sobbing breaking the quiet.

"When I first received the call telling me the news, at that time I still had hope," said Cho Kyung-mi, who was waiting for news of her missing 16 year-old nephew at the school. "And now it's all gone."

In the classrooms of the missing, fellow students have left messages on desks, blackboards and windows, asking for the safe return of their missing friends.

This picture shows the moment when maritime policemen rescued Lee Joon-seok, 3rd right, as the ferry he captained sank with hundreds of passengers remaining on board
South Korean coast guard officers search for missing passengers aboard a ferry. (AP)
Family members of missing passengers, who were on the South Korean ferry 'Sewol' which sank in the sea off Jindo, jostle with coastguard and police officers as they demand the immediate restart of the search operation. Reuters
Relatives of passengers aboard the sunken South Korea ferry pray for their safety at a port in Jindo (AP)
Rescue boats sail around the stricken South Korean ferry, Sewol, during their rescue operation.
Rescue ships take part in a rescue operation around the Sewol passenger ship, which sank in the sea off Jindo. Reuters
Rescue ships take part in a rescue operation around the Sewol passenger ship, which sank in the sea off Jindo. Reuters
A woman offers prayers during a candlelight vigil for the missing passengers of a sunken ferry at Danwon High School in Ansan, South Korea. AP
Members of South Korean Ship Salvage Unit (SSU) search for passengers who were on the South Korea ferry 'Sewol' which sank in the sea off Jindo. Reuters
A vessel involved in salvage operations passes near the upturned South Korean ferry 'Sewol' in the sea off Jindo. Reuters
South Korea's Prime Minister Jung Hong-won is shielded by bodyguards from attack by angry family members of missing passengers who were on South Korea ferry 'Sewol' which sank in the sea off Jindo, at a gym in Jindo. Reuters
Lee Joon-Seok (C), captain of the South Korean ferry "Sewol" which sank at sea off Jindo, is investigated at Mokpo police station
Relatives wait for their missing loved ones at a port in Jindo, South Korea (AP)
A relative of a passenger aboard the sunken ferry weeps at a port in Jindo, South Korea (AP)
Rescue boats sail around the South Korean passenger ship 'Sewol' which sank, during their rescue operation in the sea off Jindo. Reuters
A family member of a missing passenger who was on the South Korean ferry 'Sewol', which sank at sea, is wheeled into an ambulance after collapsing as she waits for news of their family from a rescue team at a gym in Jindo. Reuters

"If I see you again, I'll tell you I love you, because I haven't said it to you enough," reads one message.

Investigations into the sinking, South Korea's worst maritime accident in 21 years based on possible casualties, have centred on possible crew negligence, problems with cargo stowage and structural defects of the vessel, although the ship appears to have passed all of its safety and insurance checks.

The ship's 69-year-old captain has also come under scrutiny after witnesses said he was among the first to escape the sinking vessel that was on a 400-km (300-mile) voyage to Jeju.

According to investigators, Captain Lee Joon-seok was not on the bridge at the time the Sewol started to list sharply, with a junior officer at the wheel.

Prosecutors on Friday issued arrest warrants for Lee, the officer at the wheel and one other crew member for failing in their duty to aid passengers.

"I'm not sure where the captain was before the accident. However, right after the accident, I saw him rushing back into the steering house ahead of me," said Oh Young-seok, one of the helmsmen on the ship who was off duty and resting at the time.

"He calmly asked by how much the ship was tilted, and tried to re-balance the ship," said Oh, who was speaking from a hospital bed in the city of Mokpo on Friday, where the injured have been taken.

 

NORMAL PRACTICE

Handing over the helm is normal practice on the voyage from Incheon to Jeju, which usually takes 13.5 hours, according to local shipping crew.

Divers gained access to the cargo deck of the ferry on Friday, although that was not close to the passenger quarters, according to a coastguard official.

Other coastguard officials said that divers made several attempts to reach the passenger areas but failed.

"We cannot even see the ship's white colour. Our people are just touching the hull with their hands," Kim Chun-il, a diver from Undine Marine Industries, told relatives of the missing.

The ferry went down in calm conditions and was following a frequently travelled route in familiar waters. Although relatively close to shore, the area was free of rocks and reefs.

Lee has not commented on when he left the ship, although he has apologised for the loss of life.

He was described as an industry veteran by the officials from Chonghaejin Marine Co Ltd, the ship owner, and others who had met him described him as an "expert".

"I don't know why he abandoned the ship like that," said Ju Hi-chun, a maritime author who interviewed the captain in 2006 as one of the experts on the route to Jeju island.

But he added: "Koreans don't have the view that they have to stay with their ship until the end. It is a different culture from the West."

Some media reports have said the vessel turned sharply, causing cargo to shift and the ship to list before capsizing.

Marine investigators and the coastguard have said it was too early to pinpoint a cause for the accident and declined to comment on the possibility of the cargo shifting.

The record of the ferry owner was also under investigation and documents were removed from its headquarters in Incheon.

Chonghaejin Marine Co Ltd is an unlisted company that operates five ships. It reported an operating loss of 785 million won ($756,000) last year.

According to data from South Korea's Financial Supervisory Service, a government body, Chonghaejin is "indirectly" owned by two sons of the owner of a former shipping company called Semo Marine which went bankrupt in 1997

Promoted articles

Read More

Promoted articles

Editors Choice

Also in World News