SEOUL: South Korea’s coastguard yesterday released a video showing the trouserless captain of a sinking ferry scrambling to safety as hundreds remained trapped inside — a move expected to intensify criticism of the crew over the disaster.
The 10-minute video — taken by rescue officials and aired on the YTN news channel — shows 69-year-old captain Lee Joon-seok, wearing a sweater and underpants, hastily escaping from the bridge of the tilting ship before it sank on April 16.
All 15 of the surviving crew responsible for sailing the huge ferry are in custody, facing charges including negligence and abandoning passengers. Victims’ families have bitterly criticised the official response to the disaster, saying delays in accessing the submerged ship may have robbed any survivors of their last chance to make it out alive.
The video attracted caustic online comment. “Look at the captain running out of the ship without his pants on. How pathetic. Can’t believe he didn’t think about all the children trapped there while he rushed so quickly to save his own life,” said one user.
Prosecutors yesterday carried out a series of raids, including on a coastguard office, as part of their widening investigation into the disaster that left 300 dead or missing. Divers trying to search the wreck of the upturned Sewol, which capsized with 476 people on board, were frustrated for a third straight day by atrocious weather and dangerous conditions.
Despite more than 60 hours of operations since Friday by divers trying to penetrate the flooded interior, only two more bodies have been recovered and 113 are still unaccounted for. The confirmed death toll from one of the country’s worst ever maritime disasters stood yesterday at 189. Most of the missing and dead were high school students.
Strong currents have also worsened fears that bodies could drift free and be scattered. Nets have been thrown up in seas around the ferry, but no finds have yet been reported.
South Korea remains in a state of national mourning, as furious relatives and the public at large cast around for someone to blame for one of the country’s worst maritime accidents.