Monday, April 21, 2014

South Korea: Update--Newly Elected President Slow To Respond in Ferry Disaster, Death Toll Now at 64

According to Reuters, South Korean President Park Geun-hye said on Monday (April 21) the actions of the captain and crew of a ferry that sank last week with hundreds feared dead were tantamount to murder, as authorities arrested four more officers of the vessel.

Sixty-four people are known to have died and 238 remain among the missing, presumed dead, in the sinking of the Sewol ferry last Wednesday (April 16) . Most of the victims are high school students.

Captain Lee Joon-seok, 69, and two other crew members were arrested last week on negligence charges, with prosecutors announcing four further arrests - two first mates, one second mate and a chief engineer.

Several crew members, including the captain, left the ferry as it was sinking, ahead of the passengers, witnesses have said.

President Park said the crew's desertion was tantamount to murder.

COMMENT: It should be noted that the President Park's acknowledgment comes far too late in the ferry disaster. She should have weighed in when the ferry first capsized and sank, taking charge of the disaster and going to great steps to support the families of the victims.

What South Koreans will remember most is Park being hounded as she arrived at her gym to work out last week.

She could very well face endless lawsuits that could haunt her for the years she has remaining in office.

"Above all, the conduct of the captain and some crew members is unfathomable from the viewpoint of common sense, and it was like an act of murder that cannot and should not be tolerated," Yonhap news agency quoted her as saying during a meeting with aides.
 
Unfortunately, the President remained silent for well over a week, which could haunt her the rest of her days in office.

Lee reportedly was involved in another ferry disaster several years ago, which will flag new inquiries.

Tragically, many of those who escaped alive either did not hear or ignored the order for passengers to remain in their cabins.

Of the 476 passengers and crew on board, 339 were students and teachers on a high school outing.

JEJU TODAY interviewed Lee in 2004 when he spoke of close shaves at sea including passing through a typhoon and a prior sinking off Japan.

President Park could very well pay for her silence for years considering the parents of students and faculty have been cordoned in a gymnasium in the port city of Jindo, taking turns to vent their anger at the crew's inaction and slow pace of the rescue operation.

Two US underwater drones have been deployed in the search for bodies, a coastguard official said. Strong tides hampered operations overnight, as the weather was improving on Monday, far too late to save any passengers.

This report will be updated as new information becomes available.