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South Korea Ferry Captain Arrested as Crews Recover More Bodies

Lee Joon-seok has come under heavy criticism for his decision to wait a half hour after the accident to evacuate passengers.

by Leezel Tanglao
Apr 19 2014, 8:40pm

Photo by Reuters

On Saturday, authorities arrested the captain of the ferry that capsized and sank off the southern coast of South Korea on suspicion of negligence as crews recovered more bodies from the vessel.

Ferry captain Lee Joon-seok was arrested and taken into custody. Authorities also arrested the ship’s helmsman and third mate, the Associated Press reported.

A ferry carrying more than 450 passengers, capsized off South Korea’s southwest coast early on Wednesday, April 16.

Prosecutors said the third mate was steering the ship at the time the accident happened. The area where the ship was traveling is prone to fast currents, officials said.

"I am sorry to the people of South Korea for causing a disturbance and I bow my head in apology to the families of the victims," Lee told reporters.

Lee has come under heavy criticism for his decision to wait a half hour after the accident to evacuate passengers.

Escaping a sinking ferry in South Korea. Watch the video here.

Lee cited the strong currents and water temperature for his reasons for not ordering an evacuation immediately.

"The rescue boats had not arrived yet, nor were there any civilian fishing ships or other boats nearby at that time," Lee told reporters.

Crews have recovered at least 36 bodies since Wednesday’s accident.

Hundreds may be trapped underwater in South Korean ferry disaster. Read more here.

The ferry was carrying more than 450 people, with two-thirds of the passengers hailing from Danwon High School. The students were on a field trip.

Kang Min-gyu, the vice principal of the school was found dead in an apparent suicide on Friday, police said. Kang's body was found hanging outside the gym in Jindo, Reuters reported. Kang was one of the passengers rescued from the ferry.

"Burn my body and scatter my ashes at the site of the sunken ferry," Kang wrote in a suicide note released by police on Friday. "Perhaps I can become a teacher for the missing students in my next life."

Rescue crews from South Korea’s Coast Guard and USS Bonhomme Richard have been deployed to help in search and recovery efforts near the island of Jindo.

The US Navy and Marine Corps, as requested by South Korea, assisted with search-and-rescue operations near the scene of the sunken ferry Sewol near the island of Jindo on April 19.