Divers will attempt to recover bodies from a capsized South Korean ferry Saturday after an earlier bid to reach the compartment they’re in failed.
The ferry sank Wednesday, leaving at least 29 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 were unable to recover the bodies and planned 40 dives later that day to get inside the ferry, it said.
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.
A crew member, described as the third mate and identified only as Park, appeared in handcuffs with Lee.
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.
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.