The 68-year-old captain of the ferry that sank off the southern coast of South Korea was arrested on Saturday for suspicion of negligence and abandonment.
266 people are missing since the ship sank on Wednesday. As the confirmed death toll rose to 36, divers have not been able to get inside the ship where they expect to find additional bodies. Hundreds of divers took part in the search on Saturday.
Captain Lee Joon-seok has been accused of abandoning the passengers, with local news reports indicating he was one of the first people to evacuate the sinking ship leaving a majority of its passengers inside.
“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 when he left court on Saturday.
He is also accused of waiting 30 minutes after the ship began to sink before issuing evacuation orders. The captain defended this move, citing rough waters and cold temperatures, as well as the fact that rescue ships had not arrived.
“I thought that if people left the ferry without (proper) judgment, if they were not wearing a life jacket, and even if they were, they would drift away and face many other difficulties,” Lee said.
According to the Associated Press, some of the survivors said they never heard an evacuation order.
The two other crew members arrested were a helmsman and a third mate. According to senior prosecutor Yang Jung-jin, the 25-year-old rookie third mate was steering the ship through unfamiliar and challenging waters when the incident occurred.
There were 476 people on board the Sewol when it sank. A majority of the passengers were students from a high school outside of Seoul who were on vacation.