Rescue efforts for the passengers of Korean passenger ferry the Sewol that sank in the Yellow Sea off the tip of the South Korean peninsula on the 16th are still ongoing, and more information continues to emerge about what exactly went on on board the stricken vessel. There has been an outpouring of shock and anger from the families of the passengers after learning that the captain and some of his crew were among the first to abandon the sinking ship, and many are now questioning what he was doing in command of the huge vessel in the first place.
Captain Lee Joon Seok is safe on dry land after leaving the stricken ship while passengers were told to remain in their seats. According to Korean media, after captain Lee Joon Seok reached land he apparently spread his soaked bills on the ground to dry and yelled ‘This is my money!’, appearing to be mentally unstable.
The early flight of captain and crew could have had an effect on the subsequent fate of the passengers left on board. According to survivors, they were told to keep their life vests on, to not move, and to wait for rescue. However there was panic on board the ship as it began to list and sink into the water, and passengers pushed forward to reach the exits. As many of the ships passengers were high school students on a school trip, they had little experience of evacuation procedures in an emergency.
People are also now raising doubts over whether a 69-year-old second-class seaman had the necessary qualifications to be operating the Sewol, one of the largest types of ferries in Korea. Furthermore, according to a report in a Korean newspaper, investigative authorities have found that it was a third-class seaman and two helmsmen who were manning the ship at the time of the accident, and the captain was not there. The third-class seaman had only one years experience, and had just started working on the Sewol this year. One of the helmsman said that ‘at the time of the accident the current was quick and handling was difficult. We should have had a first-class captain with plenty of experience.’ The captain himself acknowledged that ‘It was a dangerous area. I should have been navigating it.’ Apparently the captain would only enter the steering room once every three or four hours to check on how things were going.
Many people are looking for answers as to how such a tragedy could have occurred, and with Lee Joon Seok now being investigated for abandoning a vessel, negligence, and manslaughter, this could end up being a long drawn-out trial to rival that of Captain Schettino of the Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia.
Right now, with the tragedy continuing to unfold and further rescues looking more and more unlikely, we can only pray that as many people as possible will be found alive, that justice will be served, and the appropriate lessons learnt.