Ferry Captain: ‘I Bow My Head In Apology’
The captain of a ferry that capsized off the coast of South Korea with 476 passengers on board has apologised to the families of the victims.
In a televised address with his head bowed, Lee Joon-Seok said he had delayed the order to abandon the Sewol because he thought the sea was too cold and that the passengers, mostly children, would “drift away”.
His apology came as it emerged that the the third mate steering a South Korean ferry at the time of a major accident was navigating those waters for the first time.
Senior prosecutor Yang Jung-jin told reporters that the 25-year-old mate was steering the ship as it passed through an area with lots of islands clustered close together and fast currents.
Yang says that another mate usually took controls through the area. But because heavy fog caused a departure delay, the third mate was steering.
The 69-year-old captain, described as an industry veteran by the ship’s owners and an “expert” by others, has been arrested on suspicion of negligence and abandoning people in need.
Investigators are looking into whether Lee’s evacuation order came too late to save lives. Two crew members have also been arrested for failing in their duty to assist passengers.
Oh Yong-Seok, a helmsman on the ferry, said when the crew sent a distress call, the ship was already listing more than five degrees.
About half an hour later, Lee finally gave the order for the passengers to abandon ship, according to Mr Oh.
Investigations are also focusing on whether problems with cargo stowage and structural defects of the vessel might have led to the ship capsizing.
Addressing journalists, Lee said: “I am sorry to the people of South Korea for causing a disturbance and I bow my head in apology to the families of the victims.
“I gave instructions regarding the route, then I briefly went to the bedroom and then it happened.
“At the time, the current was very strong, temperature of the ocean water was cold, and I thought that if people left the ferry without (proper) judgement, if they were not wearing a life jacket, and even if they were, they would drift away and face many other difficulties.
“The rescue boats had not arrived yet, nor were there any civilian fishing ships or other boats nearby at that time. There was a mistake on my behalf as well but the steering (gear of the ship) turned further than it was supposed to.”
Lee was speaking as divers searching for some 200 missing people say they looked through a window of the ship and saw three bodies inside the sunken vessel but were unable to retrieve them.
No sounds have been heard from the hull which has now disappeared under the water. Rescuers say hopes of finding survivors are fading.
The number of passengers confirmed dead currently stands at 28.
Some 325 passengers were students from Danwon High School near Seoul.
They were on a school trip making a 13-hour journey to the holiday island of Jeju.