Arrest Warrant Issued for Doomed Ferry's Captain

Investigators say he wasn't at helm when accident occurred

By John Johnson,  Newser Staff

Posted Apr 18, 2014 12:30 AM CDT | Updated Apr 18, 2014 7:08 AM CDT

(Newser) – This might better explain why the captain of the South Korean ferry that capsized has been so reluctant to face the public: Investigators say he wasn't at the helm when the ship ran into trouble, report the BBC and Reuters. "He may have been off the bridge," said one prosecutor, "and the person at the helm at the time was the third officer." Now an arrest warrant has been issued for the captain, 69-year-old Lee Joon-seok, who was also among the first people off the listing ferry. Arrest warrants were also issued for two other crew members, CNN reports. Another disturbing detail: The AP reports that an official on land instructed the ferry crew to begin preparing for an evacuation almost immediately after the distress call was made, but the captain didn't follow through with the order for another half-hour or so. More:

  • The presence of a less experienced officer at the helm could end up being a huge factor in the accident because the early evidence is pointing toward human error, reports the New York Times. One thing in particular investigators are looking at is whether the ferry made a "drastic" turn that caused it to tip.
  • The captain and crew are also under fire for an inept rescue operation, in which only a few of the ship's life rafts were deployed. About 270 of the 450 people aboard remain missing, and the confirmed death toll of 28 was expected to rise sharply soon.
  • Four large cranes are at the site of the sinking, with a fifth one arriving Sunday, all in a bid to lift the ferry from the water—an operation that could take "many days, or even longer," according to the Wall Street Journal. But officials say they won't rush into the salvage operation too quickly if it means putting possible survivors at risk.
(Also today, a high school vice principal rescued from the ferry was found hanged.)

Lee Joon-seok, the captain, arrives to be questioned at Mokpo Police Station in South Korea Thursday.   (AP Photo/Yonhap)
South Korean Coast Guard officers search for missing passengers aboard a sunken ferry Thursday.   (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
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