UPDATE: Ferry was "too listed" for passengers to board lifeboats

UPDATE: Jindo, South Korea (CNN) --  Passengers aboard the doomed South Korean ferry could not board lifeboats because the vessel had already listed too much, a crew member on the ship said, according to a radio transcript released Sunday.

The dramatic conversation that took place while the Sewol ferry was sinking last Wednesday was released by the search mission's joint task force.

Here's an exchange between an unidentified crew member of the Sewol and the Jindo Vehicle Traffic Service:

Sewol: "Our ship is listing and may fall."

Jindo VTS: "How are the passengers doing? ..."

Sewol: "It's too listed that they are not able to move."

A short time later, another exchange took place:

Jindo VTS: "Are the passengers able to escape?"

Sewol: "The ship listed too much, so it is impossible."

The transcripts may help answer one of the major questions about the capsizing: Why didn't passengers escape on lifeboats?

Jindo, South Korea (CNN)
 -- A South Korean captain, standing in handcuffs before reporters, defended his order to delay the evacuation of his sinking ferry, CNN affiliate YTN reported early Saturday.

The news of Lee Joon Seok's arrest in connection with the sinking that left 29 people dead and more than 270 missing came as divers worked through the night to try to reach the hundreds still believed to be inside the wreckage in the frigid waters 20 kilometers (roughly 12 miles) off the coast of South Korea's southern peninsula.

Lee has been charged with abandoning his boat, negligence, causing bodily injury, not seeking rescue from other ships, and violating "seamen's law," state media reported, citing prosecutors and police

The charges against Lee appear to shed some light on what authorities have focused on in their efforts to find out what happened to the ferry making its way Wednesday from Incheon to the resort island of Jeju.

"Mr. Lee is charged with causing the Sewol ship to sink by failing to slow down while sailing the narrow route and making (a) turn excessively," prosecutor Lee Bong-chang told the semi-official Yonhap news agency.

"Lee is also charged with failing to do the right thing to guide the passengers to escape and thereby leading to their death or injury."

If convicted, Lee faces from five years to life in prison.

A South Korean prosecutor said Lee wasn't at the helm of the Sewol when it started to sink; a third mate was at the helm.

"It is not clear where he was when the accident occurred, although it is clear that he was not in the steering room before the actual accident happened," state prosecutor Jae-Eok Park said.

A crew member, described as the third mate, appeared with Lee and, like the captain, the thrid mate was in handcuffs. The man was identified only as Park.

It was unclear if he was one of two other crew members who authorities have said also faced arrest in connection with the sinking.

A spokesman for the joint prosecutor and police investigators declined to provide further details.

As the captain left a court hearing early Saturday, police led him to reporters, where he answered questions.

"The tidal current was strong and water temperature was cold, and there was no rescue boat," Lee told reporters, according to CNN affiliate YTN. "So I had everyone stand by and wait for the rescue boat to arrive."

Lee acknowledged that he plotted the ship's course, and then went to his cabin briefly "to tend to something."

It was then, he said, the accident happened.

The third mate, who was at the helm of the ship when Lee left, said he did not make a sharp turn. Rather, he said, "the steering turned much more than usual."

The captain was one of at least 174 people rescued soon after the Sewol began to sink, violating an "age-old rule and internationally recognized rule that a captain must stay on the vessel," maritime law attorney Jack Hickey said.

"Pretty much every law, rule, regulation and standard throughout the world says that yes, the captain must stay with the ship until all personnel are safely off of the ship, certainly passengers."

Hopes of finding the missing alive dimmed further when the entire boat became submerged Friday. Until then, part of the ship's blue-and-white hull was still poking out of the frigid waters of the Yellow Sea.

The coast guard said workers continued to pump air into the hull of the submerged ship but could not stop its descent.

Still, divers breached the hull of the sunken ferry, and two managed to enter the second deck -- the cargo deck, the South Korean coast guard said. But rough waters forced them out. They didn't find any bodies in their brief search.

Compounding the tragedy of the ship sinking, one of those rescued, a high school vice principal who was on board the ferry along with more than 300 students, was found hanging from a tree, police said.

Kang Min Kyu, 52, vice principal of Ansan Danwon High School, was among the first survivors to be rescued.

Police said he apparently hanged himself with a belt from a tree near a gymnasium in Jindo, where distraught relatives of missing passengers have been camping.


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