Nightly News   |  April 19, 2014

Families Furious at Capsized Ferry Captain

Family members of the victims of a sunken South Korean ferry express their frustration at the captain who abandoned their loved ones as the ship sank.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> that ill-faded south korean ferry that abandoned the sinking ship and 300 others, mostly school children is under arrest with two crew members suspected of negligence. today for the first time, divers searching the mirky waters broke through windows to recover a few of the victims inside while holding out slim hope they may yet find survivors. at least 36 people are listed as dead. for the families waiting for word of the loved ones, the pain and grief is overwhelming, and so too is the anger, even as the ship's captain tries to explain why he delayed the order to abandon ship . bill neely is in south korea and has the latest, bill?

>> reporter: good evening, lester . a fifth day of searching has begun here but one korean official says the operation to recover bodies in the ship here could take months. the relatives here are under immense strain. the captain is under arrest and under fire. he lost his ship. now he's lost his freedom. this 59-year-old captain under arrest and charged with criminal negligence admitting he had deliberately delayed an evacuation.

>> translator: i was afraid the passengers would drift away in the water he said. he admitted he was in his cabin when the accident happened. with him also charged, two other crew including the 26-year-old female office who has been steering the ship. this was the captain arriving on shore with the first group of survivors. he left behind nearly 300 people trapped. his life raft unused. even his helmsmen now charged and being treated in the hospital was shocked the captain had fled. the families of the children he left behind on the ship are furious.

>> translator: our children are still there says this parent and we're dying on shore.

>> reporter: they wait in a gym of mourning. hundreds exhausted by grief but refusing to let go, but as the uncle of one missing child spoke to me, news came through more bodies had been found. we're hearing someone screaming right now in the background. this must be so difficult.

>> so difficult. i don't want to give up. really, i don't want to give up.

>> reporter: the waiting is torture. some parents have given dna samples so these can be checked against children recovered from the sea. they watched video of the under water search of the ship but saw little through the mirky water. divers are still trying to retrieve bodies, but currents are strong as a water fall push them back. rescuers workday and night, flairs lighting the sky where the ship lies watched by desperate families on land. three more bodies have just been brought ashore now. there were cries from parents who simply don't know whose children these are. four days on and still only one in ten of the missing children have been found and brought here. and so they wait powerless, clinging to glimmers of hope amid the darkness. and as you say, lester , the confirmed death toll is now 36. that still leaves, 265, most of them children, missing and officials say it's now highly unlikely even if they were in an air pocket in that ship that any of those children would still be alive, lester .

>> bill neely for us, thank you. for more on the questions this disaster raises about passenger safety , we're joined by associate professor of navigation at suni maritime college here in new york. i want to start by asking, we understand the children, passengers were told to stay in their cabins at the beginning of this emergency. is that in any way typical of what a crew would ask for in an emergency like this?

>> it isn't. one of the usual things that will happen is there is any emergency that takes place on board the vessel, the first thing to happen the alarm is sounded. every person on board that vessel and any commercial vessel has a very specific location they have to go from the cook right up to the captain. so the alarm should have been sounded. the passengers should have been mustered to the evacuation point. the captain was very concerned about them going into the water, the cold water but the captain didn't necessarily have to have them evacuate the vessel at the time but at least they should have been moved to evacuation stations so the life rafts could have gotten ready and made a decision after that at some point.

>> is the crew typically allowed to make unilateral action? if they don't hear from the captain and see things going south, can they make the call personally to get people on boats and off?

>> that's going to depend on the circumstances. there is a system of communication that takes place on the vessel. the most common system is the public address system . if they have a loss of power at some point and can't use the public address system , then the individual officers and crew responsible for those life raft decisions, if they don't have walk ki talk key communication or other communication, then thi they are responsible for making that decision. i don't see where we're talking about where any of the other crew members were at the time of this emergency.

>> it's an interesting question and i got to ask recognizing these were mostly children passengers on board, but you hear about these things overseas and confusing situations. what should you as a passenger do in a case like this? you feel the boat lifting and not comfortable with the instrugss, how much action should you take on your own?

>> at the very least a passenger that is not comfortable should go to the evacuation station. any cruise, at any point you know they always show you where your evacuation station is, and you should really memorize that. for example, when you walk out your cabin door, you should be able to turn to the left and know how to get to your evacuation station and turn to the right and know how to get to your evacuation station.