Friday, April 18, 2014

South Korea: Update--Increasing Tragedy in Massive Ferry Sinking, 28 Declared Dead, 268 Still Missing

According to Reuters, the vice-principal of a South Korean high school who accompanied hundreds of pupils on the ferry that capsized has committed suicide, Kang Min-gyu, 52, had been missing since Thursday (April 17), he appeared to have hanged himself with his belt from a tree outside a gym in the port city of Jindo where relatives of the passengers missing on the ship, mostly students from a Seoul-based high school.

Police said Kang did not leave a suicide note at which point he was later described as having survived the suicide attempt. 

Twenty-eight people had been officially been declared dead before Kang's suicide and 179 were rescued, although nearly 268 passengers remain missing.

The Sewol, carrying 475 passengers and crew, capsized on Wednesday (April 16) on a journey from the port of Incheon to the southern holiday island of Jeju.

Thus far, 28 passengers have been declared dead. This number, sadly, is surely to rise dramatically. 

COMMENT: Investigation into the ferry's sinking continue with the vessel's sinking now being designated as the worst South Korea's worst maritime tragedy in 21 years.

 The inquiry now seems to be centered on based on crew negligence, problems with cargo stowage and structural defects of the vessel, although the ship appears to have passed all of its safety and insurance checks. 

The 69-year-old ship captain has also come under scrutiny after witnesses said he was among the first to escape the sinking vessel that was on a 400-kilometer (300-mile) voyage to Jeju.

Captain Lee Joon-seok was not on the bridge at the time the Sewol started to list sharply, with a junior officer at the helm. Although the captain was not in the pilot house at the time of the sinking, the puzzling question is whether the junior officer at the helm was qualified to safely manage the vessel.

Prosecutors on Friday issued arrest warrants for Lee, the officer at the wheel and one other crew member for failing in their duty to aid passengers.

Lee has not commented on when he left the ship, although he has apologized for the loss of life.

The record of the ferry owner was also under investigation and documents were removed from its headquarters in Incheon.

Chonghaejin Marine Co Ltd. is an unlisted company that operates five ships. It reported an operating loss of 785 million won ($756,000) in 2013.