- S. Korea president says ferry captain's action 'tantamount to murder'
- Japan PM makes gift to controversial war shrine, skips visit
- S. Korea ferry transcript reveals evacuation panic
Posted: 20 Apr 2014 08:12 PM PDT
SEOUL, April 21, 2014 (AFP) - South Korean President Park Geun-Hye said Monday that the behaviour of the captain and crew of the ferry that capsized five days ago with 476 people on board was unacceptable and "tantamount to murder".
"The actions of the captain and some crew members were utterly incomprehensible, unacceptable and tantamount to murder," the presidential Blue House quoted Park as saying in a meeting with senior aides.
"Not only my heart, but the hearts of all South Koreans have been broken and filled with shock and anger," said Park, who had been heckled Thursday when she met relatives of the hundreds of passengers still missing - most of them schoolchildren.
The families have criticised the official response to the disaster, saying the initial rescue effort was inadequate and mismanaged.
Park said it was increasingly clear that Captain Lee Joon-Seok had unnecessarily delayed the evacuation of passengers as the ferry started sinking, and then "deserted them" by escaping first.
Lee was arrested on Saturday along with a helmsman and the ship's relatively inexperienced third officer, who was in charge of the bridge when the ship first ran into trouble.
"This is utterly unimaginable, legally and ethically," she said, adding that all parties to the disaster, from the owners, to the safety inspectors to the crew would be investigated and all those responsible would be held "criminally accountable."
Posted: 20 Apr 2014 07:30 PM PDT
TOKYO, April 21, 2014 (AFP) - Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe donated a tree to the controversial Yasukuni war shrine Monday, but did not visit the memorial which is seen by China and South Korea as a symbol of Japan's militarist past.
Abe donated the symbolic gift, a sacred "masakaki" tree, to coincide with the start of a three-day spring festival, Jiji Press news agency and other local media said.
The offering was seen as a sign that he would avoid a personal visit during the festival, reports said, with public broadcaster NHK quoting anonymous sources as saying he was not planning a trip.
Abe had been widely expected to refrain from visiting the shrine ahead of US President Barack Obama's visit to Tokyo from Wednesday to Friday, with Washington calling for Asian neighbours to mend ties.
Many other lawmakers are however expected to make their regular pilgrimage on Tuesday.
The 145-year-old Shinto shrine honours Japan's war dead including several leaders condemned as "Class A" war criminals by the US-led allied powers and executed after World War II.
Abe, known for his nationalist views, drew protests from China and South Korea when he visited the shrine last December at a time when Japan's ties with the neighbouring countries were severely strained over territorial disputes and differences in historical perceptions.
Conservative Japanese parliamentarians make pilgrimages to the shrine during spring and autumn festivals and on the war anniversary.
Abe made the same kind of tree offering at the autumn festival last year, but did not visit the shrine.
Yasukuni is a flashpoint in relations between Japan and its Asian neighbours, with disagreements about history badly colouring relations.
Beijing and Seoul see Yasukuni as a painful reminder of Japan's imperialist past because it enshrines some of the men who ran the country and its military during years of brutal expansionism.
But Japanese conservatives say it is natural that they pay homage to people who lost their lives in the service of their country.
Keiji Furuya, chairman of the National Public Safety Commission, visited the shrine on Sunday, becoming the second minister in Abe's cabinet to go there in the past week.
"I made the visit today so that it would not interrupt my official duty," Furuya said in a statement to Japanese media.
Posted: 20 Apr 2014 05:18 PM PDT
JINDO , South Korea, April 20, 2014 (AFP) - Panic-stricken and fumbling for a response, the crew of a South Korean ferry dithered over the evacuation of passengers in the crucial final moments before it sank, a transcript released Sunday revealed, as divers began retrieving bodies from the vessel.
Investigators arrested ferry captain Lee Joon-Seok on Saturday along with a helmsman and the ship's relatively inexperienced third officer, charging them with negligence and failing to secure the safety of hundreds of passengers - most of them children on a high school holiday trip.
In the final nerve-wracking moments before the vessel began listing dangerously, an unidentified crew member on the 6,825-tonne Sewol repeatedly asked an official from Jindo Vessel Traffic Services (VTS) whether help was on the way.
"We are listing. Now we are about to go down," the crew member said. "It has tilted so much and we can hardly move."
In another message, the crew member revealed that safety instructions couldn't be relayed to passengers as the PA system on board was broken at that crucial moment.
Regardless, "please advise passengers to wear life jackets and wear as many layers as possible," the VTS official retorted.
"Would passengers be rescued immediately once evacuated?" the crew member said in response.
"Make them wear a life ring at least and let them float. Now!" the official insisted.
The crew have faced vehement criticism over the delay in mobilising passengers as the ship first foundered, a possibly fatal error of judgement before the vessel fully submerged with hundreds trapped on board.
Experts have suggested that many more people might have escaped if they had moved to reach evacuation points before the ship listed sharply and water started flooding in.
The dramatic transcript released by South Korean officials is bound to fuel anger among distraught relatives of the passengers, some of whom scuffled with police on Sunday over what they say has been a botched response to the disaster.
The confirmed death toll from the disaster stands at 59 so far, with 243 people still unaccounted for.
'Save my child'
Coastguard officials said 19 bodies had been removed from the ship which sank on Wednesday morning, pushing operations further along the painful transition from rescue to recovery and identification.
It was a key moment for distraught relatives, who have clung desperately to the hope that some passengers may have survived in air pockets in the upturned vessel.
Bodies were placed in tents at the harbour on Jindo island - not far from the disaster site - where the relatives have been camped out in a gymnasium since the ferry went down.
In a process that looks set to be repeated with tragic frequency in coming days, they were checked for IDs and other particulars, after which their relatives were informed and asked to make an official identification.
Some of the policemen standing guard at the tents were openly weeping, while the cries of the family members could be heard from inside.
Of the 476 people on board the Sewol, 350 were high school students headed for the holiday island of Jeju.
Nearly 200 family members set off Sunday on a hike from Jindo to Seoul - 420 kilometres (260 miles) to the north - where they planned to march on the presidential Blue House in protest over the rescue efforts.
Scuffles broke out when they were prevented from crossing the bridge to the mainland by a large police detachment, and eventually they were forced to turn back.
One of the marchers, Chung Hye-Sook, said she was appalled that the authorities had begun taking DNA samples to ease identification of the bodies before the entire ferry had been searched.
"What are those people thinking?" Chung shouted.
"We are asking them to save our children's lives. We can't even think about DNA testing. I want to save my child first," she said.
Three giant floating cranes have been at the disaster site off the southwest coast of South Korea for days, but the coastguard has promised it will not begin lifting the ferry until it is clear there is nobody left alive.
Only 174 were rescued when the ferry sank and no new survivors have been found since Wednesday.
The ferry tragedy looks set to become one of South Korea's worst peacetime disasters. A Seoul department store collapsed in 1995, killing more than 500 people, while nearly 300 people died when a ferry capsized off the west coast in 1993.
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