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South Korea Ferry Captain Ignites Public Fury; Ukraine Pro- Russian Separatists Ask Vladimir Putin for Help; Bluefin-21 Finds No Sign of Plane

Aired April 21, 2014 - 13:30   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. I'm Wolf Blitzer, reporting from Washington.

At least 87 bodies have now been recovered so far from the sunken ferry off the coast of South Korea. Another 215 people are missing, most of them high school teenagers who had been on a class trip. The captain and six crew members now face serious criminal charges in the disaster. The captain ignited public fury by being among the 174 people rescued before, yes, before the ship sank. Even South Korea's president lashed out, basically, calling them killers.


PARK GEUN-HYE, PRESIDENT OF SOUTH KOREA (through translation): First and foremost, the actions of the captain and some of the crew are absolutely unacceptable, unforgivable actions that are akin to murder.


BLITZER: Trial attorney, Jack Hickey, is joining us now. He's an expert in the laws of the seas. He's joining us from Miami.

Jack, thanks very much for coming in.

Is it premature to charge the captain and crew members with these crimes, effectively charging them of murder, based on what we know?

JACK HICKEY, MARITIME TRIAL ATTORNEY: Well, you know, Wolf, I don't know if it's premature. Certainly, we see here a series, not just one lapse or failure. We see here a series or chain of failures, one after the other, which contributed or really caused this disaster.

First of all, you know, the captain was not at the bridge at the time of the event. I'm not so sure whether that was a horrible thing or a bad thing, because the captain does not always have to be on the bridge. But certainly, if it's in a navigationally sensitive time of the navigation of the vessel, he should be. Secondly, the miscommunication to the passengers about "stay in place." And thirdly, what people have not really talked about, is the fact that he had 45 life rafts and failed to get them to the life rafts at all. At the time, he was talking about "stay in place," he should have been talking about, get to your muster stations, get to your life rafts. Then, of course, the vessel is completely in peril, it's listing by all accounts early on 10 degrees, which is a very significant list or tilt off of center, to the port actually in this case, and at that time, the vessel goes into a disaster situation. And, as you say, as you point out, he got out the vessel long before other passengers got off, which that, in and of itself, even though it's technically -- let's say in the United States and under international convention, technically is not -- that in and of itself is not a crime, certainly it is a complete dereliction of duty. Because how can you supervise the passengers and the crew members if you're not on the vessel at that critical point in time?

BLITZER: We saw the Costa Concordia, you remember, the captain, he fled, while others were still stuck on that ship. In this particular case, the same thing. Maybe one or two of those lifeboats were used. He got out OK. But so many others remained on the ship. There used to be a tradition, the captain is the last one to leave, right?

HICKEY: Yes. There is a tradition. In fact, it dates back to the 1850s with a particular incident where the captain and his crew assisted women and children off and then the captain and crew went down with the vessel. But it's more than just romantic lore. Because, you know, the captain is the master of the vessel. Under any international convention and understanding, the captain is the master and in charge of the safety of every passenger, every crew member, the cargo and vessel itself. How can the captain supervise and be in charge of the safety at a critical time, at a critical time, if he, the captain, not on that vessel? He has to be on that vessel and should have been in this situation. You bring up a very good point about the Costa Concordia, a lot of parallels to be drawn here.

BLITZER: Because usually, if you've got 40 lifeboats, 40-plus lifeboats, you see what's going on, don't you begin the process of evacuation? You get those kids on those lifeboats right away?

HICKEY: Yes, in fact, you bring up a really good point. There were no lifeboats on this vessel. There were only life rafts. And life rafts require a certain amount of time to, A, get to and, B, to un- attach them, detach them from the vessel, and to get them into the water, and then get the passengers into the water. A little bit more time then a lifeboat. So, yes, timing was critical here. And he really blew it. I mean, by all accounts, he absolutely blew it by not initiating the course of action to get the life rafts out and to get the life rafts into the water and the passengers into those rafts.

BLITZER: So many of those kids and others are still missing right now.

Jack Hickey, thanks for that explanation. We appreciate you joining us.

HICKEY: Thank you.

BLITZER: Up next, Vladimir Putin's role in the Ukrainian crisis. Our own Newt Gingrich, he has some very strong views on the Russia leader. Standby for that. And later, the underwater drone is on its ninth mission for any trace of Malaysian Airlines flight 370. I'll ask our panel of experts what happens if, if, it doesn't find anything at all.


BLITZER: Let's get back to the awful situation in Ukraine right now. There were new calls this weekend from pro-Russian separatists asking the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, to send troops into eastern Ukraine. All this coming a few days after the so-called peace agreement signed in Geneva, Switzerland.

Joining us, Newt Gingrich, one of the co-hosts of CNN's "CROSSFIRE."

Thanks, Mr. Speaker, very much for coming in.

What do you make of these latest developments? I know you have some very strong views on what's going on. Is Putin likely to blink?

NEWT GINGRICH, CO-HOST, CROSSFIRE & FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Well, as you know, we released a podcast today that spends like 30 minutes talking about Putin. I think Putin is likely to be very cautious right now. He's gotten into Crimea. That's gone. He's pocketing that. I think he's waiting to see how big the mess is in Kiev and whether or not the interim provisional government can put things back together. I don't think he will go into eastern Ukraine. But I have a very close contact who has remarkable ties inside Russia and says for the very first type the Russian elites are talking about the possibility if the bloodshed continues that there will come a moment when they'll go into only the eastern-most part but that's a substantial part of Ukraine.

BLITZER: What does the vice president, from your perspective, Joe Biden, need to do today and tomorrow while he's in Kiev?

GINGRICH: Well, it's really very troublesome, Wolf. General Wes Clark submitted a report, which was then leaked, in which he spent some 35 meetings with Ukrainian officials. And the amount of help we're not giving them is very troubling. For example, somebody in the bureaucracy has said that a Kevlar vest is an offensive weapon. Night vision equipment is an offensive weapon. You go down this whole list of things, it's just crazy. I would say, if I were the Ukrainians, who have been our allies in Iraq, our allies in Afghanistan, I would feel dramatically unsupported today. So let's see if Biden brought them anything other than words. If all he's got is words, Vladimir Putin doesn't particularly respect Obama, and he sure doesn't particularly respect Biden, and words won't change the situation in the region.

BLITZER: As you know, they're more than just words because the U.S., Congress and the president did approve a $1 billion loan guarantee to Ukraine to help them deal with the economic crisis they're now facing. That's $1 billion in loan guarantees, which is pretty significant. The word on the street is that the vice president has more in store when he meets with the Ukrainian leadership. GINGRICH: Well, remember, the number-one place the Ukrainians spend money is to buy natural gas from Russia. So if we're now guaranteeing the Ukrainian ability to borrow money to pay Putin, Putin must be sitting there looking at his bank account, chuckling. This is not going to affect dramatically what happens in eastern Ukraine. We have a deep interest, the Europeans have a deep interest in propping up Ukraine. I suspect it's going to end up like Finland was in the Cold War, neutralized and very, very cautious about the Russians. The best we can hope for is the Russians will not invade eastern Ukraine and that's the best we can hope for.

BLITZER: One of the main arguments administration, Defense Department officials and others, officials put forward in not providing so-called lethal weapons to Ukraine is that the Ukrainian military, the intelligence services, widely, they believe, penetrated by Russians right now and many of them are in fact sympathetic to Russia, maybe even more loyal to Russia than Ukraine. It's sort of like with Syria. The U.S. doesn't provide weapons to the Syrian opposition because it could wind up in the hands of al Qaeda elements there. What do you say about that argument that they're afraid where these weapons would eventually wind up?

GINGRICH: Look, if -- first of all, who cares about Kevlar vests? I mean, if Kevlar vests are defensive weapons that the Russians know how to make as well as we do, but if you're the Ukrainian military and you don't have any of them, you feel more vulnerable to small-arms fire when you're facing Russian forces that have Kevlar vests. So some of this is just nonsense. The other question is, are we serious, Wolf. Are we serious about trying to help Ukraine or, in fact, is the Pentagon analysis saying to us this is a government so penetrated by pro-Russian forces that we can't help them, in which case, why is the vice president taking them $1 billion? You can't have it both ways. We're either in the game or we're not in the game. And that's part of why this administration is so confusing in foreign policy.

BLITZER: Newt Gingrich is the former speaker of the House, co-host of CNN's "CROSSFIRE."

Mr. Speaker, thanks very much.


BLITZER: There could soon be a major reassessment of the search operations for Malaysian Airlines flight 370. We'll ask our panel of experts what could be next. The Bluefin scans continue, at least now, to come up empty.


BLITZER: Time now for "This Day in History." It was on this day in 1926 that Queen Elizabeth II was born. The majesty turns 88 today. She's the longest serving British monarch since Queen Victoria. Here she is in 1953. Gun salutes ring throughout London today to honor the occasion. And there will be an official public celebration in June, traditionally, done in the hopes of better weather. Baby George isn't making it to the birthday. The prince and his parents continue their tour in Australia. He was introduced to Australia's version of the Easter Bunny at a zoo.

Returning now to the hunt for flight 370 as it continues in the Southern Indian Ocean. The Bluefin-21 underwater drone has now scanned two-thirds of the search zone with absolutely no sign of the plane. Australia's prime minister says it's almost time to regroup the entire search operation. Here's what Malaysia's acting transport minister says about reassessing.


AUSTRALIA ACTING TRANSPORT MINISTER: I have to stress it that this is not the time to stop the operations but to also consider other approaches which will including widening the scope of the search and utilizing other assets that could be relevant in the search operations. The search will always continue. It is just a matter of approach.


BLITZER: Let's bring in our panel. Joining us once again, Peter Goelz, CNN aviation analyst, former NTSB managing director; and our law enforcement analyst, Tom Fuentes, former FBI assistant director.

Peter, do they need to regroup right now and come close to maybe starting from scratch?

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: I don't think there's any question at this time. The Bluefin cannot identify any wreckage in the next four or five days, they need to shut the operation down there and reassess how they're going to go in for a longer-term search of a much wider area.

BLITZER: The reason they're searching this area is because they heard those pings, that they believe came from one of those two black boxes. Maybe they weren't pings after all. Is that possible?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Possibly, yes. But they are relying on the expertise of the people on the "Ocean Shield" that heard the pings. Going back to the Inmarsat satellite people, back to the radar people in Malaysia, I mean there's so many technical factors that have gone into this that, yes, we may assess this and have fresh eyes look at it and maybe they'll come up with a different determination.


FUENTES: Another determination would be if Indonesia says that that plane didn't come across their island of Sumatra, therefore, it went north and went around it. But what if it did go and they didn't notice it? Then that means that they didn't waste fuel going up north and around Indonesia. They could have taken that plane much further south if that's the case. There are so many assumptions being made as to here's why that plane got that far but they may be based on false information from the beginning.

BLITZER: But all of the experts say, the pings, the pings lasted for four hours, one for 15 minutes, the last two for five or six minutes, could not have come from anything but a mechanical device.

GOELZ: That's right. It had to come from a mechanical device. But remember, it was not at the right 27.5 kilohertz --


BLITZER: 37.5.

GOELZ: 37.5. It was lower.

BLITZER: It was about 32.5.

GOELZ: That's right. It was lower. So that throws a little bit of question to it. And one of the pings was found 17 miles from the other three, which also was questions. There were always questions about the points, and I think this is their best effort. It's coming up short. They need to reassess.

BLITZER: They are still frustrated that none of the four electronic transmitting devices went off when they're supposed to go off when they go into water and crash land.

FUENTES: Another part of the mystery.

BLITZER: One of them should have gone off, right?

FUENTES: You would have thought.

BLITZER: Obviously, they didn't detect any of that.

If they have to restart the whole thing, do they get a new team? Maybe some fresh blood.

FUENTES: Probably fresh eyes. If they decide to change equipment, not use the Bluefin, use a different towed sonar array or something other than --


BLITZER: Bring in some outside experts?

GOELZ: They need to bring in some outside experts but they also need to address the issues of the families. They need to move forward on financial compensation for them sooner rather than later.

BLITZER: Thank you very much. Let's see what this ninth Bluefin comes up with anything. The first eight came up with nothing.

Up next, we will take a close look at Anthony Bourdain's new take on Las Vegas, a very different story. And guess what? I got dragged into it.


BLITZER: The second episode of season three of Anthony Bourdain's "Parts Unknown" aired here on CNN last night and was excellent as usual. Anthony Bourdain went to Vegas and explored beyond the high- rolling glamour, the wild reputation associated with so-called Sin City, but he did splurge, landing a luxury villa usually reserved for the VIPS, the uber rich. But he got it by telling a little white lie. Watch this.


ANTHONY BOURDAIN, HOST, PARTS UNKNOWN: At Caesar's Palace, a little pad they give you if your credit line runs into the eight figures. I get it. I told the CEO that Wolf Blitzer was coming. That he was expected any minute. I suggested he may be hungry. They sent up food. Fortunately, he doesn't watch a lot of television. And I plan to live large until they figure out that Wolf ain't coming.


BLITZER: Wolf of Vegas, I'm going. Looks nice. Thank you, Anthony, for that.

Next Sunday, by the way, another episode of "Parts Unknown. Anthony explores one of the most beautiful and unknown areas of India. 9:00 p.m. eastern, I want you to watch it. You will enjoy it. He is really amazing.

It's been a White House tradition now for 136 years. About 30,000 people have crowded the South Lawn looking for annual Easter egg roll. And after the kids had their turn, they watched the president looking for some Easter baskets. It took him three tries to find the net. The theme was "Hop into Healthy Swing into Shape," part of Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" initiative aimed at children's health. Good for her. He shoots. Let's see if he scores. OK.

One year after the bombings at the Boston Marathon, competitors are back stronger than ever. The first American to win the marathon since 1983, crossed the finish line. He completed the race's 20.2 route with an unofficial time of two hours, eight minutes, 37 seconds. He and thousands of runners moved that last year's ruthless acts of terror can't define this tradition.


KEVIN WHITE, BOSTON BOMBING SURVIVOR: Last year, I was on the ground, this year I will be running across it. It proves to people that evil isn't going to win.

HEATHER ABBOTT, BOSTON BOMBING SURVIVOR: This year, for me, it's like a new starting point it's a day where I'm going to do the things I was supposed to do last year and didn't get to. It's a celebration of all that I have been able to accomplish this year and a time to start new memories.


BLITZER: Brooke Baldwin picks up on our special coverage of the Boston Marathon right now.