South Korea ferry captain defends actions, toll reaches 32

Last Updated: Saturday, April 19, 2014 - 16:46

Jindo: The arrested captain of the South Korean ferry that capsized three days ago with 476 people on board defended his decision to delay its evacuation, as divers today spotted bodies inside the submerged vessel.

Thirty-two people have been confirmed dead in the disaster, but 270 are still missing -- most of them children on a high school holiday trip.

Investigators arrested Lee Joon-Seok and two of his crew early in the morning. All three have been criticised for abandoning hundreds of passengers trapped in the ferry, as they made their own escape. Lee was charged with negligence and failing to secure the safety of passengers in violation of maritime law.

As the arrests were being made, dive teams who had spent two days vainly battling powerful currents and near zero visibility, finally penetrated the passenger decks of the 6,825-tonne Sewol.

"Civilian divers spotted three bodies through a window," a senior coastguard officer said. "They attempted to get in and retrieve them by cracking the window, but it was too difficult," he said in a briefing to relatives of the missing.

Relatives of the missing passengers, who have been sleeping in a gymnasium on Jindo island near the scene of the disaster, were shown video footage from one dive.

Even with a powerful underwater flashlight, visibility was measured in inches as the diver was seen groping his way blindly along the side of the ship with the help of a pre-attached rope.

The coastguard said more ropes were being attached ahead of a major push to get more divers inside.
Captain Lee was arraigned along with the two officers in charge of the bridge at the time.

Dressed in dark raincoats with their hoods pulled up, the three kept their heads bowed as they were paraded before TV cameras in a police station.

Questioned as to why passengers had been ordered not to move for more than 40 minutes after the ship first foundered, Lee said it was a safety measure.
"At the time a rescue ship had not arrived. There were also no fishing boats around for rescuers, or other ships to help," Lee said.
"The currents were very strong and the water was cold at that time in the area. I thought that passengers would be swept far away and fall into trouble if they evacuated thoughtlessly," he added.

AFP

First Published: Saturday, April 19, 2014 - 16:46

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