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South Korea ferry disaster: Probe finds ship lacked features for holding cargo in place

Published on May 2, 2014 1:29 PM
The South Korean passenger ship "Sewol" is seen in this undated photo released by Yonhap on April 16, 2014. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (The Korea Herald/Asia News Network) - The sunken ferry Sewol lacked features for holding cargo in place, investigators said on Thursday.

According to the investigation team, the Sewol was fitted with an insufficient number of cones ― structural features used to hold cargo containers in place ― and lacked turnbuckles. 

Due to the lack of turnbuckles, equipment used to hold cargo in place using steel wires, the containers were only tied down with rope, which in turn caused the cargo to slide when the ship lost balance. 

Also on Thursday, more than 10 locations linked to Mr Yoo Byung Eon, de facto owner of the ferry, were raided. In the latest raid, offices and homes of Mr Byun Ki Choon and Mr Hwang Ho Eun, who run companies owned by the Yoo family, were searched.

The investigators of the Incheon District Prosecutors’ Office also continued to grill Mr Yoo’s closest associates. 

For the second-consecutive day, former Ahae Corp. chief executive Lee Kang Se was questioned over suspicions of aiding Mr Yoo in the establishment of massive slush funds.

Ahae, a paint manufacturer controlled by the Yoos, is a large sponsor of Mr Yoo’s photography career, having invested in Ahae Press France, a company established to publish Mr Yoo’s photographs. 

The investigators suspect that Mr Lee received orders regarding purchasing Mr Yoo’s works from Mr Kim Pil Bae, one of Mr Yoo’s closest associates who served as the chief of Moonjin Media, another business under Mr Yoo’s control. 

Mr Kim, along with Mr Yoo’s son Yoo Hyeok Gi and Hankook Pharma chief Kim Hye Kyung, has been summoned to appear for questioning by Friday. The younger Yoo, however, is said to be unlikely to be able to answer the summons. 

The prosecution also applied for arrest warrants for Mr Song Kook Bin, chief of the door-to-door sales company Dapanda Co. owned by the Yoos. The prosecution suspects that Mr Song was deeply involved in irregular transactions involving the Yoos. In addition, Mr Song is thought to have had a hand in purchasing photographs taken by Mr Yoo for as much as 50 million won (S$60,500) each, dealing significant damages to the company. 

The search for the Sewol’s missing passengers, meanwhile, progressed slowly, hampered by rapid tidal currents.

The area’s notoriously rapid currents caused the authorities to withdraw the diving bell, which the rescue workers only managed to deploy in the early hours of the day. 

As of 6pm, the official death toll stood at 219 and the number of people missing at 83, according to the government response team spokesman Koh Myung Suk. 

In the investigation into the cause of the ferry accident, Chonghaejin Marine Co. chief executive Kim Han Sik is to be questioned again by the prosecution.

This time, Mr Kim is to be questioned as a suspect in the developments that led to the Sewol being overloaded on the day of the accident.

Earlier in the week, Mr Kim was grilled as a suspect in the Yoo family’s alleged wrongdoings, including embezzlement and tax evasion. 

With the authorities tentatively concluding that overloading was a major factor in the ship’s sinking, Chonghaejin Marine officials in related positions are also facing legal consequences. 

According to sources, the prosecution is seeking arrest warrants for the two Chonghaejin Marine officials taken into custody on Wednesday. 

The two, identified only by their surnames Ahn and Kim, are to be charged for manslaughter. Ahn is also suspected of embezzling 30 million won generated while making modifications to the ship. 

The Sewol is reported to have undergone extensive modifications that raised its center of gravity, and was kept in operation despite the management being aware that its ability to maintain balance was severely impaired.