Sewol Captain and Crew Must Face Full Force of the Law

Video footages of the sinking ferry Sewol revealed on Monday and Tuesday show the ferry's captain and crew were the first to be rescued as they skipped off the capsized ferry. Nowhere in the footage is there any hint of the captain and crew bothering even to glance at the cabins where hundreds of passengers, mostly high school students, were told to remain and became trapped.

At 9:38 a.m. on April 16, when a Coast Guard rubber dinghy approached the Sewol, the ferry had tilted around 50 degrees to its left, and the third and fourth floors of the vessel were still above water. If the crew had then instructed the passengers to evacuate, many more lives could have been saved. But the crew told the passengers several times to remain inside the ferry and then bailed out.

When maritime traffic control advised that the crew instruct their passengers to don life jackets, the crew claimed they were unable to do that due to power failure caused by the sinking. But at that time, the ferry's public address system was working. Seven crewmembers in the engine room wasted no time getting to the crew quarters on the third floor using a secret passageway and were the first to be rescued.

Had the crew bothered to open just one of the cabin doors a mere 7-8 m away, they could have told the students to leave the vessel. But the crew were too busy saving themselves.

One fishery patrol boat operator, who took part in rescuing the Sewol's passengers, told the Chosun Ilbo, "I believe the crew didn't tell the passengers to leave the ferry because they were scared that hundreds of passengers would have to be picked up first by the handful of boats that came to help." In other words, they were afraid of being last in line of 470 passengers, so they jumped to the front of the queue at the risk of letting everyone else drown.

Legal experts say the captain and crew of the Sewol could face charges of homicide if they indeed instructed the passengers to remain in their cabins so that they could be saved first. Investigators must probe all the available evidence and fillet any discrepancies in the accounts of the captain and crew to determine what is true.

In the 40 minutes after the Sewol capsized, the ferry crew phoned the ferry's operator, Chonghaejin Marine, seven times. Judging by what has been revealed about the track record of Chonghaejin Marine, it is also highly likely that the company gave the captain and crew false instructions.

If it turns out that the captain and crew left the passengers to drown in order to ensure they were first off the ferry, they must face the maximum punishment the law allows. Unless justice is done, the souls of the hundreds of innocent victims will never be laid to rest.

englishnews@chosun.com / May 01, 2014 12:23 KST