The crew on board the sunken Sewol ferry may have delayed evacuating passengers despite repeated instructions to do so, Jindo maritime traffic service's communications log showed on Sunday.
The log detailing calls between the Sewol and the Jindo Vessel Traffic Service showed that the crew was told a number of times to implement emergency measures.
However, the Sewol’s communications officer concentrated on whether the coast guard was on its way without relaying evacuation orders to the passengers.
The log showed that the Sewol was in communication with the Jindo VTS from 9.07am until 9.37am on Wednesday and exchanged 11 transmissions.
In its first transmission, Sewol told the VTS that the ship was sinking and requested the coast guard’s assistance. Three minutes later, the ship’s communications officer said that the vessel was about to “go over”. At 9.14am, the officer said evacuation was not possible.
Between 9.23 and 9.24am, Jindo VTS instructed the crew twice to inform the passengers to put on life vests. The crew member, however, only responded by saying that the ship’s broadcasting system was down and asked about the whereabouts of coast guard vessels for a third time.
At the time, a number of crew members were holding out on the bridge, the highest point on the ship.
It is not yet known if the passengers were told to abandon ship, as claimed by the ship’s captain Lee Joon-seok, before the crew evacuated. After the final communication between the VTS and the ferry, communication was cut off, implying that the crew began jumping ship from about 9.37am.
Lee and 14 crew members directly involved in sailing the vessel were taken to safety, with the captain being among the first to be rescued.
The news has fired already seething public outrage over the captain’s alleged actions.
Lee is accused of abandoning ship without seeing to the safety of the passengers first. He and one of three ferry helmsmen, plus a 25-year-old third mate have been arrested on charges of negligence and manslaughter.
The third mate is said to have been operating the vessel on Lee’s behalf when the incident that led to Sewol’s sinking occurred.
“I am sorry to the people of South Korea for causing a disturbance and I bow my head in apology to the families of the victims,” Lee told reporters on Saturday morning as he was escorted to jail.
“The current was very strong, the temperature of the ocean was cold and I thought if people left the ferry without [proper] judgement, if they were not wearing a life jacket, and even if they were, they would drift away and face many other difficulties,” Lee said.