SEOUL- South Korean President Park Geun-Hye said Monday that the behaviour of the captain and crew of the ferry that capsized five days ago with 476 people on board was unacceptable and "tantamount to murder".
"The actions of the captain and some crew members were utterly incomprehensible, unacceptable and tantamount to murder," the presidential Blue House quoted Park as saying in a meeting with senior aides.
Park said it was increasingly clear that Captain Lee Joon-Seok had unnecessarily delayed the evacuation of passengers as the ferry started sinking, and then "deserted them" by escaping first.
Lee was arrested on Saturday along with a helmsman and the ship's relatively inexperienced third officer, who was in charge of the bridge when the ship first ran into trouble.
Fresh indications show that the evacuation was delayed by panic and indecision, as the death toll from the disaster pushed past 60 with hundreds still missing.
"Precious minutes just wasted," ran the front page headline in the Dong-A Ilbo newspaper, in response to a communications transcript released Sunday revealing the confusion as the crew and marine traffic control debated evacuating the sinking vessel.
While an unidentified crew member repeatedly asked if there were coastguard vessels on hand to rescue anyone who abandoned ship, the marine controller insisted the crew check that passengers had donned lifejackets and extra clothes.
At one point the marine controller stressed that only the captain could make a call on evacuating the 6,825-tonne Sewol as it listed sharply over before eventually capsizing.
"When it comes to evacuation, you, captain, make the final judgement," the controller said.
The captain and crew -- most of whom escaped the ferry -- have faced vehement criticism for delaying the order to abandon ship -- a possibly fatal error of judgement before the vessel fully submerged with hundreds trapped on board.
The confirmed death toll from the disaster rose to 64 on Monday morning, with 238 people still unaccounted for.
Coastguard officials said 24 bodies had been removed from the ship which sank on Wednesday morning, but hundreds more were still believed trapped inside.