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Captain of tragic ferry says he's deeply ashamed


Captain Of Doomed Ferry Apologizes

BY YOUKYUNG LEE AND FOSTER KLUG

ASSOCIATED PRESS
MOKPO, South Korea (AP) -- An immediate evacuation order was not issued for the ferry that sank off South Korea's southern coast, likely with scores of people trapped inside, because officers on the bridge were trying to stabilize the vessel after it started to list amid confusion and chaos, a crew member said Thursday.

The first instructions from the captain were for the passengers to put on life jackets and stay put, and it was not until about 30 minutes later that he ordered an evacuation, Oh Yong-seok, a 58-year-old crew member, told The Associated Press. But Oh said he wasn't sure if the captain's order, given to crew members, was actually relayed to passengers on the public address system.

Several survivors also told the AP that they never heard any evacuation order.

The loss of that precious time may have deprived many passengers of the opportunity to escape as The Sewol sank on Wednesday, not too far from the southern city of Mokpo.

Nine people, including five students and two teachers, were confirmed dead, but the toll was expected to jump amid fears that the missing 287 passengers - many high school students - were dead. The confirmed fatalities include a female crew member in her 20s, five high school students and two teachers. Coast guard officials put the number of survivors Thursday at 179.

The increasingly anxious search for the missing was hampered Thursday by strong currents, rain and bad visibility.

There were 475 people aboard, including 325 students on a school trip to the tourist island of Jeju in the south of the country. The ferry had traveled overnight from Incheon on the northwestern coast of South Korea, and was three hours short of its destination when the ship began to list. The cause is not yet known.

The Sewol now sits - with just part of its keel visible - in waters off Mokpo, about 470 kilometers (290 miles) from Seoul.

Oh, a helmsmen on the ferry with 10 years' shipping experience, said that when the crew gathered on the bridge and sent a distress call the ship was already listing more than 5 degrees, the critical angle at which the ship can be brought back to even keel.

At about that time, a third mate reported that the ship could not be righted, and the captain ordered another attempt, which also failed, Oh said. A crew member then tried to reach a lifeboat but tripped, prompting the first mate to suggest to the captain that everyone should evacuate, Oh said.

The captain agreed and ordered an evacuation, but Oh said that amid the confusion and chaos on the bridge he does not recall the message being conveyed on the public address system.

By then it was impossible for crew members to move to passengers' rooms to help them because the ship was tilted at an impossibly acute angle. The delay in evacuation also likely prevented lifeboats being deployed.

"We couldn't even move one step. The slope was too big," said Oh, who escaped with about a dozen others, including the captain.

Passenger Koo Bon-hee, 36, told the AP that many people were trapped inside by windows that were too hard to break. He wanted to escape earlier but an announcement said passengers should stay put.

"The rescue wasn't done well. We were wearing life jackets. We had time," Koo, who was on a business trip to Jeju with a co-worker, said from a hospital bed in Mokpo where he was treated for minor injuries. "If people had jumped into the water ... they could have been rescued. But we were told not to go out."

It is not clear if the captain's actions violated any procedures, and he may have believed at the time that it was still possible to control the vessel, which would have made the order to evacuate unnecessary.

Worried and angry parents of the students gathered at Danwon High School in Ansan, which is near Seoul, while other relatives assembled on Jindo, an island near where the ferry slipped beneath the surface, leaving only the blue-tipped, forward edge of the keel visible.

In Mokpo, a city close to the accident site, relatives of the dead students wailed and sobbed as ambulances drove away with the bodies, headed to Ansan. The families, who spent a mostly sleepless night at the Mokpo hospital, followed the ambulances in their cars. At the school, some desperate relatives lashed out in frustration, screaming threats at journalists. On Jindo Island, also near the accident site, one woman passed out and was carried to an ambulance.

The family of one of the dead, 24-year-old teacher Choi Hye-jung, spoke about a young woman who loved to boast of how her students would come to her office and give her hugs.

"She was very active and wanted to be a good leader," her father, Choi Jae-kyu, 53, said at Mokpo Jung-Ang Hospital while waiting for the arrival of his daughter's body. Choi's mother, sitting on a bench at the hospital, sobbed quietly with her head bent down on her knee.

While more than 400 rescuers searched nearby waters, coast guard spokesman Kim Jae-in said that in the next two days, three vessels with cranes onboard would arrive to help with the rescue and salvage the ship. Divers were working in shifts in an attempt to get inside the vessel, he said, but strong currents wouldn't allow them to enter.

Kim said that divers planned to pump oxygen into the ship to help any survivors, but first they had to get inside the ferry.

The water temperature in the area was about 12 degrees Celsius (54 Fahrenheit), cold enough to cause signs of hypothermia after about 90 minutes of exposure, officials said. The ocean was 37 meters (121 feet) deep in the area.

Kim said coast guard officials were questioning the captain, but declined to provide details or speculate on the cause of sinking.

"I am really sorry and deeply ashamed," a man identified by broadcaster YTN and Yonhap news agency as the captain, 68-year-old Lee Joon-seok, said in brief comments shown on TV, his face hidden beneath a gray hoodie. "I don't know what to say."

The Sewol, a 146-meter (480-foot) vessel that can reportedly hold more than 900 people, set sail Tuesday from Incheon, in northwestern South Korea, on an overnight, 14-hour journey to the tourist island of Jeju.

The last major ferry disaster in South Korea was in 1993, when 292 people were killed.

---

Associated Press writers Hyung-jin Kim in Ansan and Jung-yoon Choi in Seoul contributed to this report.

© 2014 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.


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cincyburb01 April 17 2014 at 11:53 AM

The problem with something like this is a person can go through all the training and experience in the world, but when an actual emergency comes, all rational thinking goes out the window. No amount of emergency training can cover every degree of an emergency, or cover at exactly what degree of tilt or difficulty of walking should call for evacuation from a boat. Were there enough life-boats available for every passenger and crew member on board? Were life-boats still attached to the side of the ferry as it was going down? If some were, then action was clearly not taken soon enough.

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3 replies
Tammy April 17 2014 at 4:27 PM

Blaming someone before the facts are known is unfair to everyone involved. Pray in your own way to your own God to help these children/people. My heart is broken for their families and friends.

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jackgrenan April 17 2014 at 6:04 PM

God help these people and their families!!! Nothing but sadness.

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Allen April 17 2014 at 9:23 PM

It seems that the captain and crew did not have any training for specific types of emergencies. Furthermore, what was the actual cause of the Sewol capsizing - was this a defect in the design of the vessel that permitted sea water to entert he hull and force the vessel to list. So far no one has come up with an explanation for the Sewol's capsizing.

There have been very few ferries that have met this fate.

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muffin April 17 2014 at 1:31 PM

The so- of the Costa Concordia. I saw on the news that there are potentially dangerous rocks near where the ship began listing. Could the ship have run into some of these rocks b/c of lack of attention by captain and began taking on water. For whatever reason, the captain should be in jail. How is it possible to right the ship once it takes on water? Flooding more compartments would cause more problems. Deploying the life boats should have been the first action and ordering evacuation the next.

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1 reply
muffin muffin April 17 2014 at 1:41 PM

Ok, I deleted to much. It should read: The so-called captain of this ferry must be cousin to the idiot from the Costa Concordia. I saw on the news that there are potentially dangerous rocks near where the ship began listing. Could the ship have run into some of these rocks b/c of lack of attention by captain and began taking on water? For whatever reason, the captain should be in jail. How is it possible to right the ship once it takes on water? Flooding more compartments would cause more problems. Deploying the life boats should have been the first action and ordering evacuation the next. When everyone was safe in lifeboats, then the captain should have left the ship.

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Hectito April 18 2014 at 3:11 AM

The captain and crew should be put to death asap...

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akauhu April 17 2014 at 12:54 PM

I thought that the captain would be last to leave and to go down with the sinking ship.

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1 reply
junior akauhu April 17 2014 at 1:22 PM

He's just following captain coward example in Italy.

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Jean Hayes April 17 2014 at 12:45 PM

I would not have listened to anyone who told me to stay where I was, dont care who they are, if the ship is listing I am out of there !!!!!!!!!!!

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ilenedan2 April 17 2014 at 12:39 PM

What made it sink? Did the captain allowed sloppy loading such that the cars and equipment loaded were not balanced properly, or was it something more sinister like a torpedo or bomb?

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Buckingham's April 17 2014 at 12:35 PM

This captain of this "Costa Korea" sounds just like that idiot captain of the Costa Concordia.

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