* Ship's captain arrested for alleged negligence
* Divers gain access to cargo deck
* Hopes fade for 274 people missing
(Update with ferry captain arrested, paragraphs 13-15)
By Jungmin Jang and Ju-min Park
MOKPO/JINDO, South Korea, April 18 The
vice-principal of a South Korean high school who accompanied
hundreds of pupils on a ferry that capsized has committed
suicide, police said on Friday, as hopes faded of finding any of
the 274 missing alive.
The Sewol, carrying 476 passengers and crew, capsized on
Wednesday on a journey from the port of Incheon to the southern
holiday island of Jeju.
Kang Min-gyu, 52, had been missing since Thursday. He
appeared to have hanged himself with his belt from a tree
outside a gym in the port city of Jindo where relatives of the
people missing on the ship, mostly children from the school,
Police said Kang did not leave a suicide note and that they
had started looking for him after he was reported missing by a
fellow teacher. He was rescued from the ferry after it capsized.
Twenty-eight people had been officially declared dead before
Kang's suicide. One hundred and seventy-four were rescued. Most
of the missing are students from the Danwon High School on the
outskirts of Seoul, who were on a holiday trip.
The government revised the total number of passengers and
the number of people rescued, saying there had been further
inaccuracies in tabulation, without elaborating.
Divers are fighting strong tides and murky waters to get to
the sunken ship. The likelihood of finding any of the missing
alive is slim.
At the high school in Ansan, an industrial town near Seoul,
many friends and family of the missing gathered in sombre
silence, with occasional sounds of sobbing breaking the quiet.
"When I first received the call telling me the news, at that
time I still had hope," said Cho Kyung-mi, who was waiting for
news of her missing 16 year-old nephew at the school. "And now
it's all gone."
In the classrooms of the missing, fellow students have left
messages on desks, blackboards and windows, asking for the safe
return of their missing friends.
"If I see you again, I'll tell you I love you, because I
haven't said it to you enough," reads one message.
Investigations into the sinking, South Korea's worst
maritime accident in 21 years based on possible casualties, have
centred on possible crew negligence, problems with cargo stowage
and structural defects of the vessel, although the ship appears
to have passed all of its safety and insurance checks.
The ship's 69-year-old captain, was arrested early on
Saturday, Yonhap news agency said, after coming under scrutiny
over witness reports that he was among the first to escape the
sinking vessel during its 400-km (300-mile) voyage to Jeju.
According to investigators, Captain Lee Joon-seok was not on
the bridge at the time the Sewol started to list sharply, with a
junior officer at the wheel.
Yonhap said Lee faced five charges including negligence of
duty and violation of maritime law. Arrest warrants were also
issued for the junior officer and one other crew member for
failing in their duty to aid passengers.
"I'm not sure where the captain was before the accident.
However, right after the accident, I saw him rushing back into
the steering house ahead of me," said Oh Young-seok, one of the
helmsmen on the ship who was off duty and resting at the time.
"He calmly asked by how much the ship was tilted, and tried
to re-balance the ship," said Oh, who was speaking from a
hospital bed in the city of Mokpo on Friday, where the injured
have been taken.
Handing over the helm is normal practice on the voyage from
Incheon to Jeju, which usually takes 13.5 hours, according to
local shipping crew.
Divers gained access to the cargo deck of the ferry on
Friday, although that was not close to the passenger quarters,
according to a coastguard official.
Other coastguard officials said that divers made several
attempts to reach the passenger areas but failed.
"We cannot even see the ship's white colour. Our people are
just touching the hull with their hands," Kim Chun-il, a diver
from Undine Marine Industries, told relatives of the missing.
The ferry went down in calm conditions and was following a
frequently travelled route in familiar waters. Although
relatively close to shore, the area was free of rocks and reefs.
Lee has not commented on when he left the ship, although he
has apologised for the loss of life.
He was described as an industry veteran by the officials
from Chonghaejin Marine Co Ltd, the ship owner, and others who
had met him described him as an "expert".
"I don't know why he abandoned the ship like that," said Ju
Hi-chun, a maritime author who interviewed the captain in 2006
as one of the experts on the route to Jeju island.
But he added: "Koreans don't have the view that they have to
stay with their ship until the end. It is a different culture
from the West."
Some media reports have said the vessel turned sharply,
causing cargo to shift and the ship to list before capsizing.
Marine investigators and the coastguard have said it was too
early to pinpoint a cause for the accident and declined to
comment on the possibility of the cargo shifting.
The record of the ferry owner was also under investigation
and documents were removed from its headquarters in Incheon.
Chonghaejin Marine Co Ltd is an unlisted company that
operates five ships. It reported an operating loss of 785
million won ($756,000) last year.
According to data from South Korea's Financial Supervisory
Service, a government body, Chonghaejin is "indirectly" owned by
two sons of the owner of a former shipping company called Semo
Marine which went bankrupt in 1997.
(Additional reporting by Jack Kim, Miyoung Kim, James Pearson,
Sohee Kim and Cho Meeyoung; Writing by David Chance; Editing by
Raju Gopalakrishnan and Nick Macfie/Mark Heinrich)