President Park Geun-hye on Monday condemned the captain and crew of the doomed ferry Sewol who fled and abandoned hundreds of passengers in the sinking vessel, comparing what they did to an act of murder.
"Above all, the actions of the captain and some of the crew members were unacceptable from the viewpoint of common sense. It was like an act of unpardonable murder," she said during a meeting with senior secretaries at Cheong Wa Dae.
Park's denouncement came a day after a radio transcript between the ferry and the maritime traffic service was released to the public on Sunday. The log indicated that the ferry's crew may have delayed evacuating the passengers despite repeated instructions from the Jindo VTS saying they could not move as the ship was tilted too much.
The ferry's captain Lee Joon-seok had left the bridge even before the ship started to list. Lee and 14 crew members directly involved in sailing the vessel were rescued, with the captain being among the first.
"The captain told passengers not to move but abandoned them and fled (the sinking vessel) first. This is utterly unimaginable, both legally and ethically," she said.
The captain was arrested Saturday, along with a helmsman and a novice third mate who was in charge of the bridge when the accident happened.
The 6,825-ton ferry sank off the coast of Jindo Island on Wednesday morning with 476 people aboard. More than 300 were high school students who were on a school trip to Jejudo Island. As of 6 pm Monday, the death toll rose to 65 while 237 are still missing. Despite efforts by divers and authorities, there was no sign of survivors as of Monday evening.
"Not only my heart, but also the people's hearts have been broken and filled with rage and anger," the president said. Citing a series of problems reported about the ferry, Park said she thinks that the accident could have been detected beforehand.
Park ordered the authorities to reveal all wrongdoings related to the ferry's operations and find those who were involved. She specifically instructed officials to discover how the ferry operator brought the 20-year-old ship from Japan and how the company obtained state approval to renovate the ship and add more cabins.
She said those found responsible for the sinking would face criminal and civil charges.
"Anyone who breached the law and regulations, and provided a cause for the accident, anyone who violated regulations in the course of the sinking, and those who abandoned (the ship) or overlooked anything, we must have all of these people take criminal and civil responsibility, regardless of rank," she said.
Expressing concerns about growing public criticism of the government and civil servants, Park said she would also throw out "any officials neglecting their duty to serve the people" and those pretending to be working "just to keep their positions."
The president said she saw many family members who already strongly distrusted government officials and the way they handled the disaster when she visited the accident site Thursday.
"If civil servants become the target of public distrust for failing to carry out responsible administrative work, they no longer have reason for being (a civil servant)," she said.
"Our government will definitely kick out officials who work like this in order to keep their positions," she added.
The government has been under fire for inflating the number of survivors on the first day of the accident. Families have expressed rage over the state's disorganized crisis management system that added more confusion.
Park admitted that the ferry disaster has exposed problems with the government's initial response to disasters and ordered officials to consider launching a "control tower" that holds stronger authority to better deal with disasters in the future as soon as possible.
Later in the afternoon, Cheong Wa Dae spokesman Min Kyung-wook said that Chief of Staff Kim Ki-choon and presidential aides have sorted out Park's order into 18 categories and distributed them to relevant ministries.