South Korea ferry company chief 'overloaded ship'

  • 20 June 2014
  • From the section Asia
In this 17 April 2014 file photo, Kim Han-sik is escorted by helpers to hold a press conference at Incheon Port International Passenger Terminal in Incheon, South Korea
Chonghaejin Marine Chief Kim Han-sik is seen being escorted by helpers in Incheon, South Korea

Prosecutors say the head of the company that operated a South Korean ferry that capsized in April caused the accident by overloading the ship.

Chonghaejin Marine's chief Kim Han-sik and four employees have been charged with negligence.

A separate trial of the captain and 14 other crew members started last week. They face various charges related to their failure to help passengers.

At least 292 people, mostly school students, died in the tragedy.

Mr Kim and the four employees are accused of improperly stowing too much cargo on the ferry, and neglecting safety training for the crew.

The ship was redesigned to add cabins and an exhibition room, which made it unstable. But Chonghaejin continued to routinely overload it, said prosecutors, and made an extra $3m (£1.7m) in profit in the past year.

They said Mr Kim had encouraged managers at a weekly gathering to meet the ferry's cargo goals, even as he tried to sell the ship.

Mr Kim, 73, has denied that negligence on his part caused the accident.

Sewol ferry captain Lee Joon-seok is escorted upon his arrival for his trial at the Gwangju District Court in the southwestern South Korean city of Gwangju on 10 June, 2014
The trial of the Sewol ferry crew, including captain Lee Joon-seok, started last week

The ferry disaster has caused an outpouring of public anger in South Korea and there have been calls for severe punishment for the crew.

The case has received feverish media coverage, with commentators suggesting the defendants will struggle to get a fair trial.

Yoo Byung-eun, who is thought to control the ferry company through various holding firms, is still on the run.

He has been the target of a nationwide manhunt since he refused to respond to an official summons last month.

Meanwhile, diving teams are still trying to find 12 people still regarded as missing from the ferry.

The latest underwater search failed to find new bodies from the sunken vessel.

Divers with the South Korean Navy search for missing passengers at the site of the sunken ferry off the coast of Jindo Island on 19 April, 2014 in Jindo-gun, South Korea
Navy divers have been searching the sunken ferry for bodies since April
A relative of a passenger on board capsized South Korean ferry Sewol prays at an area where family members of victims of the disaster are gathered at Jindo harbour on 22 April, 2014
South Korea is still in mourning over the passenger ferry sinking

Separately, Choo Kyo-Young, head teacher of the school that many of the students attended, has been suspended "in connection with the disaster".

No further explanation was given.

The school's deputy head teacher, who was rescued from the ferry, killed himself after the disaster.

Some parents had initially criticised the school for going ahead with the trip despite poor weather conditions.