Death toll rises in South Korea ferry accident

Death toll rises in South Korea ferry accident

Credit: Getty Images

JINDO-GUN, SOUTH KOREA - APRIL 16: In this handout image provided by the Republic of Korea Coast Guard, a passenger ferry sinks off the coast of Jindo Island on April 16, 2014 in Jindo-gun, South Korea. The ferry identified as the Sewol was carrying about 470 passengers, including students and teachers, traveling to Jeju island. (Photo by The Republic of Korea Coast Guard via Getty Images)

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by Jeung-eun Kim, Faith Karimi and Pauline Chiou, CNN

KMOV.com

Posted on April 19, 2014 at 5:52 AM

Updated Saturday, Apr 19 at 5:52 AM

Jindo, South Korea (CNN) -- Relatives of missing passengers aboard the capsized South Korean ferry gave out DNA samples Saturday as rescuers conducted more dives into the wreckage.

The ferry sank Wednesday, leaving at least 32 people dead and more than 270 missing. It was headed to the resort island of Jeju from the port of Incheon.

Divers made their way Saturday to the third deck inside the wreckage, where they found three bodies, according to the South Korean coast guard.

They recovered two during a dive later that day. Attempts were under way to get the others.

Medical staff collected DNA samples from relatives inside a tent in Jindo.

Click here to see photos from the scene

As the rescuers scramble to retrieve the bodies, details are trickling in about what happened the day the ferry capsized.

Capt. Lee Joon Seok defended his order to delay the evacuation of his sinking ferry, CNN affiliate YTN reported early Saturday.

Lee was charged with abandoning his boat, negligence, causing bodily injury, not seeking rescue from other ships and violating “seamen’s law,” state media reported.

He appeared before reporters in handcuffs.

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

“Lee is also charged with failing to do the right thing to guide the passengers to escape and thereby leading to their death or injury.”

If convicted, he faces from five years to life in prison.

Lee wasn’t at the helm of the Sewol when it started to sink; a third mate was at the helm, a prosecutor said.

Where was captain?

It’s unclear where he was when the accident occurred, but he was not in the steering room, according to state prosecutor Jae-Eok Park.

Related: Vice principal commits suicide over guilt of surviving ferry disaster

A crew member, described as the third mate and identified only as Park, appeared in handcuffs with Lee.

Park’s facing charges including negligence and causing injuries leading to deaths, said Yang Joong Jin, a maritime police spokesman.

A technician with the surname Cho is also facing the same charges, he said.

Lee answered questions as he left a court hearing Saturday.

“The tidal current was strong and water temperature was cold, and there was no rescue boat,” he told reporters, according to CNN affiliate YTN. “So I had everyone stand by and wait for the rescue boat to arrive.”

He said he plotted the ship’s course, and then went to his cabin briefly “to tend to something.” It was then, he said, the accident happened.

The third mate, who was at the helm of the ship when Lee left, said he did not make a sharp turn, but “the steering turned much more than usual.”

The captain was one of at least 174 people rescued soon after the Sewol began to sink, violating an “internationally recognized rule that a captain must stay on the vessel,” maritime law attorney Jack Hickey said.

“Pretty much every law, rule, regulation and standard throughout the world says that yes, the captain must stay with the ship until all personnel are safely off of the ship, certainly passengers.”

More ships, aircraft

Hopes of finding the missing alive dimmed further when the entire boat became submerged Friday. Until then, part of the ship’s blue-and-white hull was still poking out of the frigid waters of the Yellow Sea.

The coast guard said workers continued to pump air into the hull of the submerged ship, but could not stop its descent. The ferry boat sank 10 meters (33 feet) farther below the surface of the Yellow Sea overnight, Maritime Police told CNN Saturday.

South Korean officials said Saturday they are sending in 176 ships, 28 aircraft and 652 divers to take part in the search and rescue efforts.

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