South Korean President Park Geun-hye said on Monday that the actions of the crew members of a ferry that sank last week with 476 people on board were "like an act of murder." Five days after the boat capsized, divers continue to search for the 238 missing passengers, most of them high-school students, who are now presumed dead. So far, at least 64 bodies of passengers have been recovered, and no survivors have been pulled from the ship beyond the 174 rescued immediately after the crash.
According to Park, who spoke about the incident on Monday, members of the crew who abandoned the ship should be considered killers. "Above all, the conduct of the captain and some crew members is unfathomable from the viewpoint of common sense," she said, adding that their actions "should not be tolerated."
So far, seven members of the crew — including captain Captain Lee Joon-seok — have been arrested for their role in the disaster. According to prosecutor Lee Bong-chang, the captain faces charges for "causing the Sewol ship to sink by failing to slow down while sailing the narrow route and making [a] turn excessively... Lee is also charged with failing to do the right thing to guide the passengers to escape and thereby leading to their death or injury." Lee could receive a sentence of five years to life in prison.
Though it's still unclear what caused the ship to take on water and eventually go down, it has become increasingly evident that the crew's poor reaction to the initial accident cost many people their lives. At the time of the disaster, an inexperienced third mate was manning the ship while the captain was "tending to something" in his cabin. And a transcript of the conversation between Jeju Vessel Traffic Services Center and crew members reveals confusion on board, confirming eyewitness accounts of chaos as the ship sank.
Now, authorities are questioning why the captain — who said he decided not to evacuate people on board because "abandoning the ship without discretion would make you drift off a fairly far distance and cause a lot of trouble" — himself left the vessel, leaving trapped passengers behind.