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'I Am Sorry': Ferry Captain Explains Delay in Evacuation

The captain of a South Korean ferry that capsized, leaving more than 300 missing or dead, apologized as he was led off to jail.

The captain of a South Korean ferry that capsized and sank, leaving more than 300 missing or dead, apologized Saturday as he was led off to jail in handcuffs after his arrest.

"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 Joon-seok, 68, told reporters outside a district court.

"I gave instructions on the route, then briefly went to the bedroom when it happened," he said.

The captain defended his decision to wait before ordering an evacuation.

A transcript of a ship-to-shore radio exchange shows that an official at the Jeju Vessel Traffic Services Center recommended evacuation just five minutes after the Sewol's distress call. But helmsman Oh Yong-seok told The Associated Press that it took 30 minutes for the captain to give the evacuation order as the boat listed. Several survivors told the AP that they never heard any evacuation order.

"At the time, the current was very strong, temperature of the ocean water was cold, and 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 told reporters. "The rescue boats had not arrived yet, nor were there any civilian fishing ships other boats nearby at that time."

Arrested along with Lee was helmsman Cho Joon-ki, 55, and the third mate, a 25-year-old woman identified only by her surname, Park.

Cho accepted some responsibility outside court. "There was a mistake on my part as well, but the steering (gear of the ship) was unusually turned a lot," he told reporters.

Prosecutors will have 10 days to decide whether to indict the captain and crew, but can request a 10-day extension from the court.

— The Associated Press