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(LEAD) Park likens captain's deserting ferry to 'murder'

2014/04/21 13:45

SEOUL, April 21 (Yonhap) -- President Park Geun-hye strongly criticized the captain and some of his crew members of the ferry Sewol on Monday for leaving hundreds of passengers behind and deserting the sinking ship, saying what they did amounted to an act of "murder."


President Park Geun-hye speaks during a meeting with senior secratries on April 21. (Yonhap)

President Park Geun-hye speaks during a meeting with senior secratries on April 21. (Yonhap)

Park also vowed to uncover all irregularities involved in the ferry's operations and force those responsible to take "criminal and civil" responsibilities regardless of their ranks.

"Above all, the conduct of the captain and some crew members is wholly unfathomable from the viewpoint of common sense, and it was like an act of murder that cannot and should not be tolerated," Park said during a meeting with senior secretaries.

"The captain did not comply with passenger evacuation orders from the vessel traffic service ... and escaped ahead of others while telling passengers to keep their seats. This is something that is never imaginable legally or ethically," she said.

The 69-year-old captain and two other crew members have already been arrested.

Park also blamed the captain for leaving an unexperienced third mate in her 20s in charge of the bridge when the ferry was traveling in an area known for strong currents. Park also said investigators should uncover whether the ferry's crew received proper safety training and abided by safety regulations.

The ferry sank off South Korea's southern coast Wednesday last week, with 476 people aboard, mostly high school students. As of Monday morning, 64 people have been confirmed dead while 238 others are still unaccounted for amid fears that they are trapped inside the sunken ship.

The sinking is expected to be one of South Korea's deadliest maritime accidents.

On Monday, Park ordered a through investigation into everything about the ferry, including how the aged ship was imported from Japan, how it won government approval for changing its structure to increase accommodation capacity and how it obtained the license for operation.

"The joint investigation team of prosecutors and police should carry out a strict investigation into the Sewol's sinking and shed light on suspicions the people have in a swift and thorough manner so as not to leave a single dot of suspicion," she said.

"Those who breached the law and regulations, and provided a cause for the accident, those who violated their obligations in the course of the sinking, and those who abandoned their responsibilities and overlooked irregularities, we have to get all of these people ... to take criminal and civil responsibilities regardless of their ranks," she said.

The remark shows that Park is determined to sack anyone found to be responsible for the disaster after the investigation is over, including government ministers. That could lead to a partial reorganization of the Cabinet.

Park also ordered public officials at the scene to work harder to help support grieving families of the missing. She said she saw many family members have high distrust in government officials handling the disaster when she visited the sinking site and met with family members.

"I will make sure to oust public servants interested only in keeping their positions," she said.

Park also acknowledged that the disaster revealed serious problems with the government's initial response to the disaster, which left more than 300 dead or missing, and stressed the need for a stronger "control tower" that can oversee the handling of disasters.

"We have to reflect on the government's crisis response system and its initial response," she said. "We have to thoroughly examine our safety policy and crisis response capabilities, fix existing system and methods and come up with fundamental solutions no matter the cost or difficulty."

   Park also ordered officials to deal sternly with those creating falsehoods about the disaster.