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article imageFerry crew desertion like murder, South Korea's president says

By Nathan Salant     Apr 22, 2014 in Travel
South Korea's president said Monday that the captain and some crew members who escaped a ferry that sank with hundreds of vacationers had committed acts "tantamount to murder."
Park Geun-hye, the country's first woman president, made the comment Monday in a conversation with aides, according to the Reuters news service.
Park's statement comes five days after the ferry Sewol sank in the Yellow Sea off the country's southern coast with 476 passengers aboard, mostly high school students from Ansan, near Seoul.
As many as 300 passengers trapped below deck when the ship listed sharply and went down are thought to have drowned.
Rescue workers were able to begin removing bodies from the sunken vessel on Sunday, Reuters said.
Sixty-four people are confirmed dead but 238 are still listed as missing.
The ship's captain, Lee Joon-seok, 69, and six other members of the crew have been arrested on negligence charges; four crew members were arrested Monday.
Several members of the crew, including Lee, left the ferry as it was sinking, witnesses told Reuters.
Park said the crew's departure from the ship at such a crucial moment was equivalent to murder.
"Above all, the conduct of the captain and some crew members is unfathomable from the viewpoint of common sense, and it was like an act of murder that cannot and should not be tolerated," she said.
Reports from survivors also indicated that crew members ordered passengers to remain in their cabins and await rescue as the Sewol sank.
Many of those who escaped alive either did not hear or ignored those instructions and were rescued as they abandoned ship.
Parents and family members of the missing children have spent the past few days in a gymnasium in Jindo, a port city at the southern tip of South Korea.
A transcript of communications from the vessel indicates that crew members worried whether there were enough lifeboats for all of the passengers, but witnesses said Lee and some of the crew took rescue boats before passengers, Reuters said.
Lee had said earlier he delayed ordered the ship evacuated because he was concerned about passengers being swept away by ocean currents, but did not explain why he decided to leave, Reuters said.
The vice-principal of Danwon High School, who had survived the sinking and been rescued, killed himself outside the gymnasium on Thursday or Friday, authorities said.
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