It took the Korea Coast Guard 12 long minutes to answer a distress call from the sinking ferry Sewol, it has emerged, and the two sides then wasted time passing the buck to each other for who should make the decision to evacuate the ferry. It was not the ferry captain who sent a distress call but a first mate.
The first mate and the emergency call center were indecisive although an oil tanker was on standby to help in nearby waters.
The new indications of massive negligence in the disaster emerged from a transcript of communications between the Sewol and Jeju and Jindo maritime traffic services.
The transcripts show that the ferry put the distress call to the emergency services in Jeju instead of the one in Jindo, which was close to the scene, at 8:55 a.m. on Wednesday.
It was not until 9:07 a.m. that the Jindo emergency services communicated with the ferry for the first time.
Only at 9:24 a.m., half an hour after the ferry started to sink, did the two sides begin talking about evacuating. The Sewol asked, "Can passengers be rescued immediately if we order them to abandon ship?" The Coast Guard replied, "The captain should make the final decision. We don't know the situation there."
Until their final communication at 9:37 a.m., neither side had made a decision to evacuate, although the oil tanker Doola Ace had told them four times that it was on standby to help in nearby waters.
In the meantime, the passengers were repeated told over the public address system to stay in their cabins. Only around at 10:15 a.m. were they told to jump into the water, but by then the first mate and captain had already abandoned ship.
The passengers, who had put on life jackets by that time, lost the chance to escape as the ferry listed further and further to the side.
A team of prosecutors and police have started an investigation of ferry operator Chonghaejin Marine and slapped an overseas travel ban on some 40 staff and seamen with the company.
Meanwhile, more than 20 bodies were collected from the sunken ferry on Sunday, the fifth day since the tragic accident, bringing the official death toll to over 60 and the number of missing to about 240.