The maritime police, under fire for bungling an initial rescue operation of a capsized ferry a fortnight ago, said Monday one of its rescue boats at the scene had repeatedly told passengers to escape the listing ship and jump overboard.
The 100-ton rescue boat, called 123, of the maritime police office in Mokpo, a southwestern port city, was the first to arrive at the scene where the 6,825-ton Sewol sank on April 16.
"We issued warning announcements toward the Sewol and ordered passengers to jump into the sea," Kim Kyoung-il, a maritime police officer who was on the rescue boat, told a press briefing at a port near Jindo Island, near the shipwreck site.
"Upon arriving (at the scene), we made several announcements using a public-address system," Kim said, adding that it was impossible to get inside the sinking Sewol as it had tilted too much.
The maritime police office, which received the first distress call from a teenager aboard the Sewol, is accused of wasting crucial minutes before starting its rescue operation.
The office is also under criticism for saving the ferry's disgraced captain and 20 other crew members who issued a delayed evacuation order and abandoned the ship ahead of others.
"It was difficult to tell the difference between the passengers and crew members as it was such an urgent situation," Kim said.
Kim further said maritime police officers broke glasses, using hammers and axes, and saved seven more passengers.
Despite Kim's argument, a joint investigation team raided the office to look into whether maritime police officers properly handled the tragic incident.
The investigation team said it will analyze the work journals and transcripts of the recording to see whether the authorities properly fulfilled their duties. (Yonhap)