South Korea Ferry Captain Arrested As Search For Survivors Continues

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South Korea ferry disaster
Members of South Korean Ship Salvage Unit search for passengers who were on the ferry Sewol, which sank in the sea off Jindo, Wednesday, April 16, 2014.

Update 3:35 p.m. EDT: The captain of the sunken ferry has been formally charged and is in custody, state-run media reported early Saturday, citing prosecutors and police.

Lee Joon Seok is charged with five violations, relating to his abandoning the boat, negligence, causing bodily injury, not seeking rescue from other ships, and violating "seamen's law." He could get sentences from five years to life if convicted.

An arrest warrant for Lee was issued the night before for the accident that has left at least 29 passengers dead and nearly 270 missing.

"Mr. Lee is charged with causing the Sewol ship to sink by failing to slow down while sailing the narrow route and making the turn excessively," prosecutor Lee Bong-chang told Yonhap news agency.

Original story:

The captain of the South Korean ferry carrying 475 passengers that sank Wednesday arrived in court late Friday night to face a prosecutor’s request for his formal arrest, Fox reports.

Lee Joon-seok, 68, was taken into custody amid reports that an inexperienced crew member may have been at the ship's control when it overturned, and survivors' claims that the crew did not act swiftly enough to evacuate the passengers, who were mostly high school students on a field trip to a resort island.

Lee has made a brief, videotaped appearance, although his face was hidden by a gray hoodie. 

"I am really sorry and deeply ashamed," Lee said. "I don't know what to say."

Also Friday, a high school vice principal who had been rescued from the ferry was found hanged from a tree on Jindo, an island near the wreckage where rescued passengers have been housed.

The vice principal, identified as Kang Min-kyu, was the lead guide for 323 students on a school trip. He said in a suicide note that he felt guilty for being alive while more than 200 of his students were missing. Kang said he wanted to take responsibility for what happened because he had led the trip, according to police. He asked that his body be cremated and the ashes scattered at the accident site.

Meanwhile, rescue workers stepped up their search Friday for nearly 300 people still missing in the wreckage, but their efforts were hampered by high winds and tumultuous waves as they tried to reach the vessel, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.

Using floodlights and flares, hundreds of coast guard and military officers, along with civilian divers, struggled to gain access to the submerged ship to search for 274 passengers who are still unaccounted for.

The Coast Guard said divers temporarily halted pumping air into the hull of the submerged ship and will resume the operation early Saturday morning.

As of 11 p.m. Friday local time, 28 passengers had been confirmed dead. While 174 have been rescued, no one has been found alive since around Wednesday noon when the ship capsized.

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