By Mina Kim, Lisa Pickoff-White and The Associated Press
Update, Friday 1:30 p.m.:
The captain of a South Korean ferry that capsized and sank earlier this week has been arrested, according to the BBC and several other news outlets.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reports Lee Joon-seok has been jailed on charges that include negligence of duty and violation of maritime law. Two other crew members have also been arrested.
Shock and sadness are turning to anger in the Bay Area’s Korean-American community as details emerge about the ferry that sank off the coast of South Korea on April 16. Most of the passengers aboard the ship were students from Danwon High School in the city of Ansan, about an hour south of Seoul. They were on their way to the resort island of Jeju for a field trip when disaster struck.
Nam Hong, an editor with the Korea Times in Oakland, said community members are outraged by the reports that passengers were ordered to stay put as the ferry sank.
“They don’t understand how these kind of things can happen,” he said. “It didn’t sink right away, for two hours, so if they reacted fast then everybody could have gotten out.”
The confirmed death toll from the sinking of the Sewol was 29 as of Friday. But the number was expected to rise with about 270 people missing, most of whom were students. Officials said there were 174 survivors.
East Bay resident So Young Kim told the Korea Times that she was shocked by reports that the boat’s captain may have been among the first to be rescued. “He should have stayed in the ship saving people,” she said.
A crewman told The Associated Press that there was chaos and confusion as the captain first tried to stabilize the vessel before ordering its evacuation. About 30 minutes after passengers were told to stay in place, the captain finally gave the order to evacuate, he said, adding that he wasn’t sure, in the confusion and chaos on the bridge of the sinking ferry, that the order was relayed to the passengers. Several survivors also told AP that they never heard any evacuation order.
By then, it was impossible for crew members to move to passengers’ rooms to help them because the ship was tilted at an impossibly acute angle, the crewman said. The delay in evacuation also likely prevented lifeboats from being deployed.
“We are praying for the victims and their family, and missing people, waiting silently for a miracle,” said the Rev. Hyok In Kwon of Berkeley Korean United Methodist Church.
Divers are working in shifts to try to get into the sunken vessel, but strong currents would not allow them to enter, said Coast Guard spokesman Kim Jae-in. The divers planned to pump oxygen into the ship to help any survivors, but first they had to get inside, he added.
The water temperature in the area was about 54 degrees Fahrenheit, cold enough to cause signs of hypothermia after about 90 minutes of exposure.
“I hope the Korean government will put more effort into saving students,” said Joanne Lee, a senior at Monte Vista High School in Cupertino, to the Korea Times.
AP also reported that police said a high school vice principal who’d been rescued from the ferry was found hanging Friday from a pine tree on Jindo, an island near the sunken ship where survivors have been housed. He was the leader of the group of 323 students traveling on the ship on a school excursion, and said in a suicide note that he felt guilty for being alive while more than 200 of his students were missing.