Asia

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 Image copyright AP
Image caption 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.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption 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.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Navy divers have been searching the sunken ferry for bodies since April
Image copyright AFP
Image caption 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.