Video shows trouserless captain fleeing ferry

AFP-JIJI, AP

South Korean Coast Guard officials on Monday released a video showing the trouserless captain of a sinking ferry scrambling to safety as hundreds of passengers remained trapped inside — a move expected to intensify criticism of the crew over the disaster.

The 10-minute video — taken by rescue workers and aired on the YTN news channel — shows 69-year-old Capt. Lee Joon-seok, clad only in a sweater and underpants, escaping from the bridge of the tilting ship before it sank on April 16.

All 15 surviving crew members responsible for sailing the ferry are in custody, facing charges including negligence and abandoning passengers.

Victims’ families have bitterly criticized the official response to the disaster, saying delays in accessing the submerged ship may have robbed any survivors of their last chance to make it out alive.

The video released Monday showed the open decks of the ship nearly empty, as crew repeatedly instructed passengers to stay in their cabins until it became impossible for them to evacuate because the ship was tilting too much.

The delay in the crucial final hours — when most crew members fled the ferry — sparked outrage that many lives could have been saved if passengers had received timely instructions.

The video attracted caustic online comment.

“Look at the captain running out of the ship without his pants on. How pathetic. Can’t believe he didn’t think about all the children trapped there while he rushed so quickly to save his own life,” said one poster.

Meanwhile, divers trying to search the wreck of the upturned Sewol, which capsized with 476 people on board, were frustrated Tuesday for a third straight day by atrocious weather and dangerous conditions.

Despite more than 60 hours of operations since Friday by divers trying to penetrate the flooded interior, only two more bodies have been recovered and 113 people are still unaccounted for.

The confirmed death toll stood Monday at 189. Most of the missing and dead are high school students. The probe into the sinking has expanded from the ferry operator, Chonghaejin Marine, and its affiliates, to state ship safety inspectors and even sea traffic controllers.

On Monday prosecutors raided the coast guard office in the southern port of Mokpo to probe allegations that it had failed to respond quickly enough to an emergency call.

Prosecutors are also analyzing calls between crew members of the sunken ferry and the offices of Chonghaejin Marine, senior prosecutor Ahn Sang-don said Tuesday.

Multiple crew members on the ferry communicated about seven times by phone with the owner’s offices, Ahn said.

The first call was placed at 9:01 a.m. on April 16, just six minutes after the ferry reported a distress call. The last call by a crew member to the employer was made around 9:40 a.m.

South Korean media reports said the captain sought approval from the CEO of Chonghaejin to evacuate the ship, but Ahn said investigators are still looking into why the calls were made.