A team investigating the cause of the capsizing of the 6,825-ton ferry Sewol said that the doomed ferry carried cargo over three times its maximum load limit and reduced its ballast water to make room for more freight, citing testimony from a first mate of the ship.
Water in ballast tanks provides stability to a ship.
Despite the maximum limit of 987 tons of cargo, the Sewol was carrying an estimated 3,608 tons on the day it capsized off the southwestern coast, leaving 302 missing or dead, according to a team of prosecutors and police officers.
The report heightens the suspicion that the ferry capsized because of gross mismanagement, but the team warned that confirmation of the cause of the abrupt listing and capsizing can’t be made until the ship is recovered.
The first mate, a 42-year-old man surnamed Kang, testified that he raised concerns about the overloaded ship on several occasions, including the day before sailing. But the head of the operating company’s logistics division, whom he identified by the surname Kim, shrugged off Kang’s warnings.
“Kang said that he asked the division head to stop loading cargo because the ship might sink because of its weight,” said a prosecutor on the investigation team.
“It appears that such a practice was not uncommon.”
Kim was arrested on Wednesday for negligence of duty, along with an official of the operating company, Chonghaejin Marine, identified by the surname Ahn.
Ahn is accused of brushing aside a demand by an off-duty captain surnamed Shin that the ship should stop overloading freight. The off-duty captain, who was on leave during the Sewol’s fatal journey, repeatedly warned of the overloading especially after the vessel was remodeled, according to the prosecution.
The operator carried out the remodeling between October 2012 and February 2013 to increase the number of passenger cabins on the third, fourth and fifth decks.
While the testimony gives a potential clue to the cause of the catastrophic sinking, police suspected the reported weight of the cargo was actually understated.
The Incheon Metropolitan Police Agency yesterday said that based on CCTV footage, they calculate that approximately 110 tons of heavy equipment and semitrailers were not reported by Chonghaejin.
The police said the Sewol carried 124 automobiles, 57 trucks and four kinds of heavy equipment such as excavators, adding up to 185. But the operator initially reported that the Sewol carried 180.
The investigation is also looking into the role of the owning family of Chonghaejin in its sloppy safety procedures.
The family, including patriarch Yoo Byung-eun, faces multiple charges including embezzlement, tax evasion and auditing fraud.
Prosecutors are interrogating Chonghaejin executives and the subsidiaries operated by the family to verify whether the Yoo family siphoned off company money. They are focusing on confirming an allegation that Yoo’s alleged misappropriations led Chonghaejin to compromise on safety measures and training.
Prosecutors yesterday sought arrest warrants for Song Kook-bin, president of Dapanda, a direct-sales company. The Incheon District Prosecutors’ Office also summoned the former president of Ahae Corporation on Wednesday for questioning on suspicions of facilitating financial irregularities allegedly committed by Yoo. Ahae Corporation is a paint company owned by the Yoo family.
Patriarch Yoo Byung-eun also worked as a photographer under the artistic name Ahae, holding exhibitions in different countries including Russia and Italy.
Lee Gang-se, the former president of Ahae Corporation, is accused of using company funds to buy Yoo’s photos.
So far, prosecutors have detained the captain and other crew members who fled the ship. They have also raided the offices of Chonghaejin Marine and the homes of Yoo’s sons, who own the largest stakes in the company.
BY PARK EUN-JEE [email@example.com]