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South Korea ferry disaster: Ferry operator misreports information

Published on Apr 20, 2014 12:46 PM
Family members of passengers missing after the ferry Sewol capsized clash with police in Jindo during a protest calling for a meeting with President Park Geun-hye and demanding the search and rescue operation be sped up on April 20, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The number of passengers and the weight of cargo on the Sewol were falsely reported, raising suspicions that the ferry company was trying to cover up allegations that the ship was overloaded.

In a departure report, Chonghaejin Marine Co. told authorities at the Korea Shipping Association that it had 450 passengers, 24 crew members, 150 vehicles and 657 tons of cargo on board, according to YTN reports on Sunday.

But shortly after the accident on Wednesday, the ferry operator quickly changed the numbers, reporting that it had 477 people on board and was carrying 1,157 tons of cargo. The ferry was also found to have loaded 180 vehicles.

"The safety operator goes to the site and checks whether the ship is overloaded or not (before it leaves the port)," a Chonghaejin Marine Co. official said in an interview. He added that he "received a report that the ship was not overloaded."

Chonghaejin Marine Co. has changed its reported number of passengers several times. On Wednesday, the stated number of passengers changed from 477 to 459, then 462, and again to 475 throughout the day. Then, on Friday, the number was changed again to 476.

The confirmed death toll from the disaster now stands at 49 with 253 people still unaccounted for.

Of the 476 people on board when the 6,825-tonne Sewol capsized and sank on Wednesday morning, more than 350 were high school students headed for the holiday island of Jeju.