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South Korea ferry disaster: captain's actions 'tantamount to murder' says president

South Korean maritime policemen search for passengers from the ferry "Sewol" that capsized in the sea off Jindo April 16, 2014. Credit: Reuters South Korean maritime policemen search for passengers from the ferry "Sewol" that capsized in the sea off Jindo April 16, 2014.
Credit: Reuters

The captain and some crew members of the sunken South Korean passenger ferry
Sewol have been accused of 'murderous acts' by their own president, after they ran from the stricken boat leaving more than 300 people to their fate.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye expressed horror that captain Lee Joon-seok had told passengers to stay on board while he and members of his crew escaped. She said: “Legally and ethically...this is an unimaginable act.”

And, as divers continued to recover bodies from the ferry today, Ms Park said that those to blame would have to take "criminal and civil" responsibility for their actions.

The Korean ferry disaster death toll now stands at 64, with 238 people still missing, most of them students from a school near Seoul.

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The captain is believed to have initially told passengers to stay in their rooms on board the sinking ship.

He waited more than 30 minutes to issue an evacuation order but by then the ship had tilted so much that many of the hundreds of people now missing were trapped.

The Presidential office in Seoul said Ms Park, whose government has faced criticism over its initial response to the disaster, told aides that the actions of the captain and some of the crew “were utterly incomprehensible, unacceptable and tantamount to murder.”

Ms Park said: “The captain did not comply with passenger evacuation orders from the vessel traffic service... and escaped ahead of others while telling passengers to keep their seats. This is something that is never imaginable legally or ethically.”

She pledged that those who had broken the law or 'abandoned their responsibilities' would be held to account regardless of rank.

The captain and two crew members have been arrested on suspicion of negligence and abandoning people in need. Prosecutors said Monday that another four crew members have been also detained.

Video (pic below) showed that captain Lee Joon-seok, 68, was among the first people rescued from the stricken vessel.

South Korea ferry disaster captain Lee Joon-seok in promo video South Korea ferry disaster captain Lee Joon-seok in promo video

Some of his crew said he had been hurt, but a doctor who treated him said he had no fracture and only light injuries.

Jang Ki-joon, director of the orthopedic department of Jindo Hankook University, who treated the ship's captain while unaware of his rank said: “[Lee] spoke of pain in the left rib and in the back, but that was it.”
More than 220 of the missing and dead are students from a single high school near Seoul who were on their way to the southern tourist island of Jeju.

It emerged over the weekend that the captain appeared in a promotional video for the shipping line about four years ago in which he described ferry travel as the safest travel in the world so long as the passengers followed the crew's instructions.

 
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