South Korean President Park Geun-hye has condemned the captain and some crew members of the sunken Sewol ferry, saying they committed “unforgivable, murderous acts” by delaying the ship’s evacuation.
During a cabinet briefing on Monday, Park accused captain Lee Joon-seok and his crew of telling “passengers to stay put but they themselves became the first to escape, after deserting the passengers."
"Legally and ethically this is an unimaginable act,” she said.
As the ship carrying 476 people sank on Wednesday, Lee told passengers to stay in their cabins, and waited more than half an hour to issue an evacuation order - by which point the ship had tilted. Around 240 people missing people are still believed to be trapped inside.
On Monday, prosecutors said that another four crew members had been detained, after the captain and two crew members were arrested Friday on suspicion of negligence and abandoning people in need.
Senior prosecutor Ahn Sang-don said prosecutors would decide within 48 hours whether to ask a court for arrest warrants for the four — two first mates, a second mate and a chief engineer.
Footage showed that 68-year-old Lee was among the first people rescued.
Some of his crew members said he had been hurt, but following an examination by a doctor, it was revealed that he escaped with light injuries.
South Korea ferry disaster
South Korea ferry disaster
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A woman ties a yellow ribbon dedicated to dead and missing passengers onboard sunken passenger ship Sewol to a pillar at Yellow Ribbon's Garden set up at Seoul City Hall Plaza
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A South Korean man walks past a well-wishing ribbon in Seoul
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High school student who are members of the Youth section of the Seoul Alpine Federation, climb to display a sign reading 'My dear friend I will remember you forever' while hoping for the safe return of the sunken ferry Sewol's missing passengers as they hang on a rope bridge on the Ansan mountain in Seoul
4/6 South Korea ferry disaster
High school student hold a sign reading 'My dear friend I will remember you forever' while hoping for the safe return of the sunken ferry Sewol's missing passengers as they hang on a rope bridge on the Ansan mountain in Seoul
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File image: A diver gets out from the sea after attempting to search for the missing passengers at the site of the sunken South Korean ferry 'Sewol' off Jindo on 26 April, 2014
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South Korean coast guard officers try to rescue passengers from the Sewol ferry as it sinks in the water off the southern coast near Jindo, south of Seoul, South Korea
A transcript released by the coast guard on Sunday shows that the ship, which carried 476 people, was crippled by confusion and indecision well after it began listing Wednesday.
About 30 minutes after the Sewol began tilting, a crew member repeatedly asked a marine traffic controller whether passengers would be rescued if they abandoned ship off South Korea's southern coast.
This was followed by several statements from the ship that people aboard could not move and another in which someone said that it was "impossible to broadcast" instructions.
The traffic official then said patrol boats would arrive in 10 minutes, though another civilian ship was already nearby and had told controllers that it would rescue anyone who went overboard.
Ahn said Monday that a number of Sewol crew members, but not the captain, took part in the conversation.
The cause of the disaster is not yet known, but prosecutors have said the ship made a sharp turn before it began to list.
More than 170 people survived the sinking of the Sewol, but the confirmed death toll climbed over the weekend after divers finally found a way inside the sunken vessel and quickly discovered more than a dozen bodies. They had been hampered for days by strong currents, bad weather and low visibility.
Rescue teams have so far recovered 64 bodies, but around 240 people remain missing, 225 of those feared dead are students from a high school near Seoul who were on board the ship on their way to the southern tourist island of Jeju.
Relatives have gathered around white signboards on the nearby island of Jindo to identify the bodies from the ship. As no names are listed, relatives must look at sparse details such as gender, height, hair length and clothing to see if their loved ones have been found. Many have given DNA samples at the gymnasium where many of them are staying, to make bodies easier to identify when they are recovered.
"I'm afraid to even look at the white boards," said Lim Son-mi, 50, whose 16-year-old daughter, Park Hye-son, has not been found.
"But because all the information is quite similar, whenever I look at it, my heart breaks."
Additional reporting by APReuse content