Jindo, South Korea • Prosecutors detained four more crew members Monday from the South Korean ferry that sank last week as they raced to unravel the mysteries surrounding the sinking, which left more than 300 people dead or missing in one of the country’s worst peacetime disasters.
Three of the four ship’s mates who were on the ferry, the Sewol, when it tilted and capsized Wednesday were detained for possible criminal indictment as was the ferry’s chief engineer. The engineer, whom prosecutors identified only by his surname, Park, was one of the first members of the crew to leave the vessel as it was sinking, according to at least two crew members interviewed in recent days.
Prosecutors already arrested the Sewol’s captain, Lee Jun-seok, on Saturday, along with another ship’s mate and a helmsman, both of whom were on duty in the wheelhouse when the ferry began to sink. The three face criminal charges including accidental homicide. Lee is also charged with abandoning his passengers during a crisis, which is punishable by life in prison.
The detention of the four additional crew members, a likely prelude to their formal arrests, came as President Park Geun-hye called for stiff punishment for those responsible for the disaster. She said that the decision of some crew members to flee the ship was “like a murderous act that can never be understood or forgiven.”
“They escaped first, abandoning the passengers while asking them to stay put,” Park said. “Legally and morally speaking, this is something one cannot even imagine.”
The 6,825-ton Sewol was sailing from Incheon, a port west of Seoul, to the southern resort island of Jeju when it tilted and capsized Wednesday morning.
Prosecutors were investigating passengers’ statements that they had been urged repeatedly to stay inside the ship even as it was listing badly and the decision by the captain and other crew members to leave the ship while hundreds were still aboard.
Rescuers Monday were continuing the grim, perilous task of searching for the missing within the submerged vessel. On Monday evening, the confirmed death toll stood at 87, with 215 people still missing, the vast majority high school students.
The 174 known survivors were all found in the hours immediately after the sinking.