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Captain of sunken South Korean ferry arrested

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Lee Joon-seok, center, the captain of the sunken ferry Sewol in the water off the southern coast, leaves a court which issued his arrest warrant in Mokpo, south of Seoul, South Korea, Saturday, April 19, 2014. The investigation into South Korea’s ferry disaster focused on the sharp turn it took just before it began listing and on the possibility that a quicker evacuation order by the captain could have saved lives, officials said Friday, as rescuers struggled to find some 270 people still missing and feared dead. (AP Photo/Yonhap) KOREA OUT

Lee Joon-seok, center, the captain of the sunken ferry Sewol in the water off the southern coast, leaves a court which issued his arrest warrant in Mokpo, south of Seoul, South Korea, Saturday, April 19, 2014. The investigation into South Korea’s ferry disaster focused on the sharp turn it took just before it began listing and on the possibility that a quicker evacuation order by the captain could have saved lives, officials said Friday, as rescuers struggled to find some 270 people still missing and feared dead. (AP Photo/Yonhap) KOREA OUT

Lee Joon-seok, center, the captain of the sunken ferry Sewol in the water off the southern coast, leaves a court which issued his arrest warrant in Mokpo, south of Seoul, South Korea, Saturday, April 19, 2014. The investigation into South Korea’s ferry disaster focused on the sharp turn it took just before it began listing and on the possibility that a quicker evacuation order by the captain could have saved lives, officials said Friday, as rescuers struggled to find some 270 people still missing and feared dead. (AP Photo/Yonhap) KOREA OUT

Lee Joon-seok the captain of the sunken ferry Sewol in the water off the southern coast, leaves a court which issued his arrest warrant in Mokpo, south of Seoul, South Korea, Saturday, April 19, 2014. The investigation into South Korea’s ferry disaster focused on the sharp turn it took just before it began listing and on the possibility that a quicker evacuation order by the captain could have saved lives, officials said Friday, as rescuers struggled to find some 270 people still missing and feared dead. (AP Photo/Yonhap) KOREA OUT

Students hold papers with candles for safe return of their friends aboard the sunken ferry Sewol at Danwon High School in Ansan, south of Seoul, South Korea, Friday, April 18, 2014. Rescuers scrambled to find hundreds of ferry passengers still missing Friday and feared dead in the waters off the country’s southern coast, as fresh questions emerged about whether quicker action by the captain of the doomed ship could have saved lives. (AP Photo/Yonhap) KOREA OUT

One of relatives of passengers aboard a sunken ferry cries during a Buddhist ceremony to pray for speedy rescue and their safety at a port in Jindo, south of Seoul, South Korea, Friday, April 18, 2014. The ferry flipped onto its side and filled with water off the southern coast of South Korea on Wednesday, with about 270 people still missing. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

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MOKPO, South Korea (AP) — The captain of a sunken South Korean ferry was arrested Saturday on suspicion of negligence and abandoning people in need, as investigators looked into whether his evacuation order came too late to save lives. Two crew members were also arrested, a prosecutor said.

The disaster three days ago left more than 270 people missing and at least 29 people dead.

As the last bit of the sunken ferry’s hull slipped Friday beneath the murky water off southern South Korea, there was a new victim: a vice principal of the high school whose students were among the passengers was found hanged, an apparent suicide.

The Sewol had left the northwestern port of Incheon on Tuesday on an overnight journey to the holiday island of Jeju in the south with 476 people aboard, including 323 students from Danwon High School in Ansan. It capsized within hours of the crew making a distress call to the shore a little before 9 a.m. Wednesday.

Only its dark blue keel jutted out over the surface. But by Friday night, even that had disappeared, and rescuers set two giant beige buoys to mark the area. Navy divers attached underwater air bags to the 6,852-ton ferry to prevent it from sinking deeper, the Defense Ministry said.

The coast guard said divers began pumping air into the ship to try to sustain any survivors.

Strong currents and rain made it difficult to get inside the ferry. Divers worked in shifts to try to get into the vessel, where most of the passengers were believed to have been trapped when it sank, coast guard spokesman Kim Jae-in said.

Investigators said the accident came at a point where the ship had to make a turn, and prosecutor Park Jae-eok said investigators were looking at whether the third mate ordered a turn that was so sharp that it caused the vessel to list.

The sharp turn came between 8:48 a.m. and 8:49 a.m., but it’s not known whether it was done voluntarily or because of some external factor, said Nam Jae-heon, a spokesman for the Maritime Ministry.

Another angle being probed is the role of the captain, 68-year-old Lee Joon-seok.

Senior prosecutor Yang Jung-jin said Lee was detained early Saturday, along with the two crew members. Lee faces five charges including negligence of duty and violation of maritime law, according to the Yonhap news agency.

Yang said earlier that Lee was not on the bridge when the ferry was passing through an area with many islands clustered closely together, something he said is required by law so the captain can help a mate make a turn. The captain also abandoned people in need of help and rescue, he said.

“The captain escaped before the passengers,” Yang said.

Two crewmembers on the bridge of the ferry — a 25-year-old woman and a 55-year-old helmsman — also failed to reduce speed near

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