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  • 18 April 2014, 17:44

Ferry Disaster: Sewol Captain Faces Arrest

Prosecutors have asked a court to issue an arrest warrant for the captain of the South Korean ferry which sank leaving 25 dead and hundreds missing.

Two other crew members are also being sought after the court appeal on Friday. No charges have been specified.

It comes as it emerged captain Lee Joon-Seok was not at the helm of the ship when it capsized, according to investigators.

The third officer was understood to be piloting the ship when the tragedy occurred, an investigating prosecutor told a news conference, and the captain may not have been on the bridge.

The investigator said: "He may have been off the bridge... and the person at the helm at the time was the third officer.

"The captain was not in command when the accident took place."

Investigators are also looking at whether the third officer ordered the vessel to make an abrupt turn, which caused it to tilt severely and take on water, according to prosecutor Park Jae-Eok.

It has also been revealed the 68-year-old delayed evacuation for half an hour after the distress signal was sent, suggesting more lives could have been saved had he acted sooner.

Oh Yong-Seok, a helmsman on the ferry with 10 years of shipping experience, said when the crew gathered on the bridge and sent a distress call, the ship was already listing more than five degrees - the critical angle at which a vessel can be brought back to even keel.

About half an hour after passengers were told to stay where they were, Mr Lee finally gave the order to abandon ship, according to Mr Oh. He added he was unsure in the confusion on the bridge if the order was relayed to the passengers.

Several survivors have said they did not hear any evacuation orders.

By the time the order was given, it was impossible for crew members to move to passengers' rooms to help them because the ship was tilted at an impossibly acute angle, he said.

It has been suggested the evacuation delay also prevented lifeboats from being deployed in time.

The confirmed death toll from the sinking of the Sewol is 25, but that number is expected to rise sharply with about 270 people still missing. Officials have so far confirmed only 179 survivors.

Some 325 of the passengers were students from Danwon High School near Seoul.

Of the 29 crew members, 20 people including Mr Lee survived.

After the tragedy, he made a brief, videotaped appearance, although his face was hidden by a grey hoodie.

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

Divers are working in shifts to try get into the upturned ship to pump oxygen into the vessel to help any survivors, but their attempts are being hampered by strong currents and freezing temperatures.

The 146-metre (480ft) ship had left Incheon on the northwestern coast of South Korea on Tuesday for the overnight journey to the southern resort island of Jeju.

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