The South Korean President has slammed the captain and crew of the ferry that capsized last week saying they acted in a way “tantamount to murder.
President Park Guen-hye vowed to hold all those responsible for the disaster “criminally accountable”, followed the release of a transcript showing the panic and indecision that paralysed decision-making on the bridge as the 6825-tonne Sewol listed and capsized on Wednesday morning.
The confirmed death toll stands at 64 on Monday, but is expected to rise dramatically with 238 people still missing.
“The actions of the captain and some crew members were utterly incomprehensible, unacceptable and tantamount to murder,” Park said in a meeting with senior aides.
“Not only my heart, but the hearts of all South Koreans have been broken and filled with shock and anger,” said Park, who was heckled Thursday when she met relatives of the hundreds of passengers still missing – most of them schoolchildren.
The families have criticised the official response to the disaster, saying the initial rescue effort was inadequate and mismanaged.
The president said it was increasingly clear that Captain Lee Joon-seok had unnecessarily delayed the evacuation of passengers as the ferry started sinking, and then “deserted them” by escaping with most of his crew members.
“This is utterly unimaginable, legally and ethically,” she said.
Lee was arrested on Saturday along with a helmsman and the ship’s relatively inexperienced third officer, who was in charge of the bridge when the ship first ran into trouble.
Three more officers and an engineer were detained by police on Monday and could, prosecutors said, face similar charges of criminal negligence and deserting passengers.
A transcript released of the final radio communications between the Sewol and marine traffic control suggested a scene of total confusion as the vessel listed sharply to one side.
Lee has insisted he had acted in the passengers’ best interest, delaying the order to abandon ship because he feared people would be swept away and drowned.