"He was a veteran with eight years of experience on the Incheon-Jeju Island route."
SeouL, April 18 - Arrest warrants were sought Friday against the captain and two sailors of the South Korean ferry that capsized off the country's southwestern coast Wednesday, killing at least 28 people while 268 are still missing.
According to latest reports, 179 people have been rescued.
South Korean prosecutors filed for arrest warrants against 69- year-old captain, identified only as Lee, and the third mate and the helmsman of the submerged vessel, which was carrying 475 passengers, mostly highschool students, Xinhua reported Friday.
The captain, who was among the first to abandon the ship, has already been arrested on charges of abandoning the ship resulting in deaths, professional negligence and violation of the rescue act. The two crew members were charged with violation of similar laws.
The additional punishment law on specific crimes was also applied to the crew members as they escaped from the ship without making efforts to evacuate passengers first.
Earlier in the day, prosecutors said the third mate took the helm of the submerged ship in the last minutes before the ship sank.
The prosecutors told a press briefing that there have been conflicting reports on the whereabouts of the captain when the ship was sinking.
The captain and crew members had been questioned by prosecutors to figure out why the ship sank. The captain reportedly came back to the steering room after the ship began tilting.
The 6,825-tonne Sewol passenger ferry capsized and sank off Jindo Island, near the southwestern tip of the Korean Peninsula, Wednesday.
The disaster was believed to have been caused by a sudden turn in direction at about 8.48 a.m. Wednesday. The second turn was suddenly made four minutes later.
The Coast Guard received a distress signal from the ship at 8. 55 a.m., and the ferry remained afloat for some two and a half hours.
While the captain and several crew members left the ferry, many passengers were left behind and failed to evacuate timely.
The ship's operator Chonghaejin Marine said that the ferry's regular captain who had been on leave was replaced by the arrested captain.
He was a veteran with eight years of experience on the Incheon-Jeju Island route.
Prosecutors searched the operator's headquarters, seizing documents and records.