South Korean president says ferry captain's actions "akin to murder"

Seoul, Apr 21 (EFE).- South Korean President Park Geun-hye on Monday compared the actions of the captain of the ferry that sank last week, leaving more than 300 people dead or missing, to murder.

"The conduct of the captain and some members of the crew is incomprehensible from the standpoint of common sense" and "akin to a form of murder that cannot be tolerated," the president said during a meeting with high-level officials.

Park spoke following the release of radio transcripts that revealed chaos and crew errors in handling the sinking of the ferry.

Divers recovered 21 more bodies from the ship on Monday, bringing the death toll to 80, with 222 people listed as missing.

The ferry Sewol sank last Wednesday about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the southwestern island of Byeongpyung.

The ship, which was operated by Cheonghaejin Marine, was carrying 476 passengers, of whom 325 were high school students between the ages of 16 and 17 who were on a field trip.

The Park administration has come under criticism from victims' relatives, who contend that officials did not move fast enough in mounting a rescue operation, made poor decisions and released incorrect information.

The transcript of radio communications between the ferry's captain, Lee Jun-Seok, 69, and maritime officials shows that mistakes were made and time was lost that could have saved more than the 174 people rescued.

The crew radioed maritime authorities on Jeju Island, the ferry's destination, at 8:55 a.m. Wednesday to say the vessel started "listing" minutes after a loud sound was heard.

Authorities told the crew several times to start evacuating the passengers, but the abandon ship order was never given by the captain because he feared people would be swept away by the strong currents in the Yellow Sea off South Korea.

Cheonghaejin Marine, which is being investigated for one of the worst maritime disasters in South Korea's history, said it was suspending service on three ferry routes it operates out of Inchon, a port city west of Seoul.