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Nation/World

April 23, 2014

Acts of bravery emerge from pilloried ship crew

MOKPO, South Korea — As the ferry sank, some crew members gave their lifejackets to passengers. One refused to leave until she shepherded students off the ship and was later found dead. Others worked from rescue boats to break windows with hammers and pull people trapped in cabins to safety.

Nearly a week after the sinking of the South Korean ferry, with rising outrage over a death count that could eventually top 300, the public verdict against the crew of the Sewol has been savage and quick. “Cowards!” social media users howled. “Unforgivable, murderous,” President Park Geun-hye said Monday of the captain and some crew.

Some fled the ferry, including the captain, but not all. At least seven of the 29 crew members are missing or dead, and several of those who survived stayed on or near the ship to help passengers.

“His last words were, ‘I’m on my way to save the kids,’” Ahn So-hyun told reporters of what her husband, missing crew member Yang Dae-hong, told her by cellphone as the ship began to sink Wednesday. He was referring to the 323 high school students on the ferry, which was carrying a total of 476 people.

More than 100 people are confirmed dead, and nearly 200 more are still missing. Relatives, as well as many other South Koreans, are enraged, lashing out at what they see as a botched rescue operation and, most vehemently, at the captain. He and two crew members have been arrested, accused of negligence and abandoning people in need. Six other crew members have been detained — two of them on yesterday — though prosecutors have yet to obtain arrest warrants for them.

Captain Lee Joon-seok told passengers to stay in their cabins as the ferry listed and filled with water, then took at least half an hour to order an evacuation and apparently escaped on one of the first rescue boats.

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