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[Ferry Disaster] Ferry captain's flight raises ire

The captain of the ferry Sewol. (Yonhap)
The captain of the ferry Sewol. (Yonhap)

Criticism is surging over allegations that the captain of the Sewol escaped first, abandoning hundreds of passengers who were fighting their way out of the sinking vessel.

The 61-year-old captain, surnamed Lee, allegedly escaped using the only one of the 46 life boats to function properly.

Maritime police questioned Lee for the second straight day Tuesday on the allegations and the cause of the ship’s sinking. They referred to Lee a “suspect,” whereas he was identified as just a “witness” the previous day.

“I am sorry to the passengers and bereaved families. I am deeply ashamed and have nothing more to say,” he said as he appeared at the police office in Mokpo, South Jeolla Province.

Allegations that the captain left the panicking passengers behind spread fast as the families of the victims anxiously waited for news of additional survivors from within the capsized ferry.

The current law governing the code of conduct for the crew stipulates that a captain must stay on his or her ship from when passengers begin boarding until they leave, unless the captain appoints a deputy for legitimate reasons.

The law also states that in the event of an of emergency, the captain should take all necessary measures to rescue passengers, the ship and cargo. Police are reportedly considering pushing for Lee to be charged with manslaughter.

Lee was also found to have been graded as a second-rate navigator. Industry sources said that Lee had renewed his navigation license in February. The license is to be renewed every five years. Critics argue that the ferry company should have employed a first-rate captain to run the nation’s largest passenger ferry.

One of the crewmembers in charge of the ship’s steering room also turned out to be an inexperienced, third-rate navigator.

Investigation authorities are speeding up their probe to find out the cause of the ship’s sinking. Their team consists of maritime police, government officials and civilian experts. The team plans to send staff to look at the wreckage for clues about the cause of the incident.

By Song Sang-ho (