As rescue workers continue their desperate search for any survivors on the Sewol, a South Korean ship filled with high school students that sunk two days ago, an arrest warrant has been issued for the ferry’s captain, Lee Joon Suk (also rendered in English as “Lee Jun-seok”). In addition to the captain of the doomed ferry, South Korean prosecutors are also seeking to arrest the third mate of the ship and another crew member. Prosecutors allege that the third mate, and not the captain, was at the helm of the ship when the accident occurred. The three crew members are being charged with abandoning the ship and its passengers as the ferry was quickly flooded with water. The captain of the ferry has been on the hot seat essentially since the moment the ship started to sink, with early reports indicating that he would likely be charged with accidental manslaughter and negligence.
The cause of the shipwreck is not yet known, and the extent of the tragedy is just now becoming clear. The death toll continues to rise as more deaths are confirmed by the hour. At present, twenty eight people are confirmed dead and another 270 are unaccounted for, and it is becoming increasingly clear that most if not all of the missing will soon be counted among the dead. The disaster has the bereaved calling for blood, as it were, and no doubt the captain and his crew will face intense scrutiny as the shipwreck is analyzed and studied. (The same happened after the Costa Cordia disaster, when it was debated whether Francesco Schettino, the ship’s captain, was responsible for the wreck.)
Early reports indicated that the ship may have a struck a rock or some other underwater object. The ship sunk with such alarmingly speed that analysts speculated that vessel must have been severely damaged, and survivors reported that they heard a loud bang right before the ship started to list. Thus, the hull of the ship must have been torn open, causing the ship to flood quickly, list to one side, and to eventually capsize, or so the thinking went. However, it does not appear that the vessel hit any sort of object, according to officials.
Investigators are now looking at the way the ship was turning at the time of the accident for an explanation. Under the steering command of the third mate and not the captain, who was inexplicably gone at this crucial moment, the ship made a sharp turn in a shipping lane. At this point in the journey, the ship was only a few hours from its destination, the resort island of Jeju. The ship started to tilt after this abrupt turn, but it is not clear if the latter caused the former. Even if the turn were too sharp, other factors might have contributed to the ship’s listing. Instigators are examining the maintenance of the ship, for instance, as well as how the heavy cargo (like cars) was stored and secured on the ship. A sharp turn might have shifted cargo, causing the ship to lose its balance.
One of the more upsetting facts to emerge since the shipwreck, one that we focused on in our initial update about the death toll of the sinking, is that passengers were evidently told by some crew members and via the ship’s loudspeaker to remain in the ship even as it began to list heavily and sink. This counsel likely ensured that more passengers were stuck on the ship when it went under. Those who boldly decided (and were able) to jump overboard into the freezing waters against the advice being broadcast on the ship might have saved their lives in the only way possible. The fact that passengers were told to stay in their quarters even as the ship sank is especially enraging given that the captain was one of the first people off the ship.