JINDO/MOKPO - South Korean prosecutors investigating last week’s ferry disaster said on Sunday they wanted to extend the detention of the captain and two other crew by 10 days as they try to determine the cause of an accident that likely claimed more than 300 lives.
The Sewol ferry was on a routine 400-km (300-mile) voyage from Incheon to the southern holiday island of Jeju in calm weather on Wednesday carrying 476 passengers and crew, among them 339 children and teachers on a high school outing. Divers gained access to the hull of the Sewol for the first time overnight and the number of those confirmed dead rose steadily throughout Sunday by 23 to 56 dead with 246 still listed as missing.
A clearer picture started to emerge of the time around the capsize with the release by coastguards of a conversation between vessel controllers and the ship.
Witnesses have said the Sewol turned sharply before it began listing. It is still not clear why the vessel turned. It took more than two hours for it to capsize completely but passengers were ordered to stay put in their cabins.
According to the transcript, at 9.25 a.m. the controllers told the 69-year old Captain Lee Joon-seok to ‘decide how best to evacuate the passengers’ and that he should ‘make the final decision on whether or not to evacuate’. Lee was not on the bridge when the ship turned. Navigation was in the hands of a 26-year old third mate who was in charge for the first time in the passage, according to crew members.
The transcript shows crew on the ship worried there were not enough rescue boats at the scene to take on all the passengers. Witnesses said the captain and some crew members took to rescue boats before the passengers. Lee said earlier he feared that passengers would be swept away by the ferocious currents if they leapt into the sea, but he has not explained why he left the vessel. Prosecutor Yang Joong-jin told a news conference in Mokpo, one of the centres for the investigation, that some of the crew said they had not received any safety training.
‘We are trying to find out if there is additional negligence,’ Prosecutor Yang Joong-jin told a news conference in Mokpo, one of the centres for the investigation, speaking of the captain and crew. When the captain and two crew were arrested on Saturday, they were detained by police for 10 days and prosecutors for a further 10. If the new extension request is granted, they could be detained for 30 days.