South Korea ferry owner 'ignored' warnings

  • 30 April 2014
  • From the section Asia
In this April 16, 2014 file photo, released by South Korea Coast Guard via Yonhap News Agency, South Korean rescue team boats and fishing boats try to rescue passengers of the sinking Sewol ferry, off South Korea"s southern coast,near Jindo, south of Seoul.
Image caption Chonghaejin Marine, owner of the Sewol, allegedly brushed aside warnings about the ship

The owner of the sunken South Korean ferry ignored an off-duty captain's warnings about the ship's stability, prosecutors have said.

They say the captain warned that the ship should not carry too much cargo after it was refurbished. Two company officials have been detained.

The vessel was carrying three times its recommended maximum cargo weight.

It had 476 passengers on board when it sank on 16 April - 174 were rescued. More than 200 bodies have been found.

Most of those on board were high school students. About 90 people are still missing and divers are searching for them off South Korea's southern coast near Jindo.

The refurbishment carried out by owners Chonghaejin Marine took place between October 2012 and February last year, shortly after the company purchased the Sewol ferry.

They built extra passenger cabins on the third, fourth and fifth decks.

The off-duty captain, named by prosecutors as Shin, had warned the company that this move had altered the 6,825-tonne ship's balance and undermined its ability to stabilise itself. The ferry left the port of Incheon with 3,606 tonnes of freight and cargo.

Prosecutors said the off-duty captain's warnings were brushed aside, according to news agencies.

Investigators are now looking into whether the ship sank from overloading and changes in the structure of the ship, and whether it had enough ballast water to accommodate the extra load.

The ferry's refurbishment had been approved and met safety standards, but Chonghaejin may have made additional changes afterward, said investigators.

Image caption Prosecutors revealed that skipper Lee Joon-seok, seen here being rescued on 16 April, was the substitute captain for that day
Image caption Kim Han-Sik (centre), the elderly chief executive of Chonghaejin Marine, being helped to the prosecutor's office

Two Chonghaejin officials have been detained on suspicion of accidental homicide, stemming from professional negligence in connection with the sinking, Yonhap news agency reported on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, the company's chief executive officer Kim Han-sik was summoned to the prosecutor's office in Incheon for questioning.

It has also emerged that the captain who was piloting the Sewol on the day of the accident, Lee Joon-Seok, was a substitute for Shin, who was on holiday.

Lee has since been detained with 14 other crew members.

More on this story