S. Korea President Park calls ferry captain’s actions “murder”

April 21, 2014

By Kim Tae-gyu

South Korean President Park Geun-hye enters the conference room Monday. / Yonhap

South Korean President Park Geun-hye enters the conference room Monday. / Yonhap

President Park Geun-hye vowed Monday to punish all those to blame for the ferry disaster in which the death toll may eventually climb past 300.

The Sewol, carrying 476 passengers, sank in waters off the southwestern coast Wednesday.

More than 200 people are still unaccounted for with the death toll rising.

“All procedures should be closely investigated ranging from the purchase of the Sewol to license acquirement, refurbishment, safety checks and navigation permits. Every irregularity should be uncovered,” Park said in a weekly meeting with her senior secretaries. “Those who are found to be responsible throughout the processes will be subject to both criminal and civil charges, regardless of their rank,” she said.

Chonghaejin Marine, the operator of the Sewol, purchased the vessel from a Japanese owner two years ago and remodeled it to increase its passenger capacity. It passed a periodic safety check in February.

After two-and-a-half-hour delay due to thick fog, the ill-fated ship departed from the western port city of Incheon last Tuesday evening heading for Jeju Island.

Lashing out at bureaucrats who failed to fulfill their missions, Park promised to fire all officials whom people no longer trust.

“When I visited the families of the victims, they had great distrust for civil servants. If public servants cannot win the approval of the people via responsible administration, they have no reason to exist,” she said. “I swear that I will dismiss bureaucrats who only care about their positions, and I will let people know the reason for such measures.”

Park expressed regrets about the country’s incompetence in dealing with the aftermath of its worst catastrophe in two decades. In particular, she likened the irresponsible activities and response of ferry Capt. Lee Joon-seok to “murder.”

“The captain did not follow the orders of the control tower to evacuate passengers after the accident. While instructing them to stay, he escaped and left them behind. Legally or ethically, this is unimaginable,” she said. “While delivering the wheel to a novice third mate, he left the bridge when the vessel went through a dangerous sea route with the country’s second-most powerful tidal currents. He deserves criticism.”

Lee was arrested along with several crewmembers and charged with negligence and violations of the Maritime Law. He could face up to life in prison for manslaughter.

Park warned against the spreading of false rumors with regard to the mishap and search-and-rescue efforts by hundreds of divers, who took to the cold waters despite strong currents and near-zero visibility.

Groundless rumors have spread online that the Sewol sank after colliding with a U.S. submarine and that divers did nothing to save the lives of potential survivors trapped in the submerged ship.

“We will have to track the sources of such lies and rumors and make sure those responsible are held accountable,” she said.