South Korean President Says Ferry Crew’s Actions Were ‘Murderous’

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JINDO-GUN, SOUTH KOREA - APRIL 16: In this handout image provided by the Republic of Korea Coast Guard, a passenger ferry sinks off the coast of Jindo Island on April 16, 2014 in Jindo-gun, South Korea. The ferry identified as the Sewol was carrying about 470 passengers, including students and teachers, traveling to Jeju island.  (Photo by The Republic of Korea Coast Guard via Getty Images)
Photo: Handout/2014 Republic of Korea Coast Guard

Though the captain of the South Korean ferry that capsized last week has tried to defend his decision to wait half an hour to begin evacuating the ship, on Sunday, South Korean President Park Geun-hye condemned him and his crew, describing their actions as "unfathomable from the viewpoint of common sense, unforgivable, murderous behavior." Alluding to a newly released transcript that reveals marine traffic controllers told the crew to prepare passengers for evacuation, Park said during a televised cabinet meeting that the crew "told the passengers to stay put while they themselves became the first to escape." "Legally and ethically," she added, "this is an unimaginable act."

Park's administration has been criticized for its handling of the search and rescue effort. On Sunday, about 100 relatives of the dead and missing marched for six hours, intending to protest outside Park's office, but they were stopped by police. So far, 64 bodies have been recovered, and 238 people are unaccounted for.

On Saturday, the captain and two crew members were arrested on suspicion of negligence and abandoning people in need, and on Monday, authorities said another four crew members have been detained. The transcripts reveal that half an hour after the ship began tilting, there was still confusion and indecision among the crew. Several crew members, but not the captain, took part in the conversation with marine traffic control. They said it had become "impossible to broadcast" instructions to passengers, and repeatedly asked if those on board would be rescued "right away" if they were told to abandon ship. The dispatchers said patrol boats would be there within ten minutes and told them to get people into life jackets and thick clothes. "Let them float even with life rings. Hurry!" they said. More than 170 people survived, but many said they never heard an order to evacuate.