All 15 Navigation Watchstanders from South Korean Ferry Face Prosecution

sewol crew arrest
Crew members (front row) of the sunken Sewol ferry stand outside a court in Mokpo, after investigators sought for warrants of their arrest at the court April 26, 2014. (c) REUTERS/Yonhap

By Kyungji Cho

April 27 (Bloomberg) — All 15 crew members involved in navigating a South Korean ferry that sank are in custody, the Associated Press reported, as authorities directing the search for bodies said divers had been hampered by severe weather.

Arrest warrants were sought for the final four members of the vessel Sewol’s navigation team, and the captain and 10 other crew members were already being held, prosecutor Yang Joong Jin said by phone from Mokpo yesterday. Investigators said they are probing whether the ferry turned too quickly or abnormally as it carried 476 people off the Korean peninsula’s southwest coast on April 16.

The death toll from the sinking of the ferry reached 187 as of 10 a.m. local time yesterday, according to an e-mailed statement from the government. The total missing is 115, AP said. No survivors have been found since the ship sank.

Before the weather worsened yesterday, the government said more than 100 divers planned to continue trying to find bodies inside the vessel. They would be “focusing on searching the ship’s third and fourth floors,” Ko Myung Suk, director general at the Korea Coast Guard, said at a briefing.

Captain Lee Joon Seok, 69, wasn’t on the bridge when the Sewol ran into trouble, prosecutor Park Jae Uck said last week. He had assigned the third navigation officer to steer the ship.

“He may have returned to the wheelhouse as the ferry began tilting,” the prosecutor said.

Mostly Students

Most of the missing passengers are from a group of 325 students and 14 teachers from Danwon High School, who were on an excursion to Jeju island.

The school’s vice principal, Kang Min Kyu, who was on the ferry and survived, was found hanged behind the gymnasium on April 18, police official Lee Sung Hun told reporters.

The Sewol, which means “time and tide” in Korean, listed and capsized in an area of the ocean as shallow as 20 meters (66 feet) in some parts, based on readings from a coast guard vessel used in the rescue operation. The ship was en route from Incheon to Jeju island, popular with tourists.

The U.S. will support every effort in the search for passengers and crew of the sunken South Korean ferry, U.S. President Barack Obama said in Seoul yesterday after a meeting with President Park Geun Hye.

Copyright 2014 Bloomberg.