Something is not right

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Something is not right


Former members of a maverick faction of the Baptist Church led by Yoo Byung-eon, the de facto owner of the sunken Sewol ferry operator Chonghaejin, expose deep-seated corruption in the shipping company. [JoongAng Ilbo]


Lee Chul-ho

Recently, I spoke with two former captains who now own ships. They called me again, both concerned about how the investigation of the Sewol sinking was developing. “Chonghaejin Marine Company is a complete mess and amateur in a way, but on the other hand, they are astonishingly professional,” said one of the captains. They were worried that Korean society could be tricked by their heartless calculations. The following are excerpts from my interview with them.

Q. What would an experienced captain do when a ship starts to lean?

A. He must start the pump and fill up the ballast water as much as possible. Then a ship leaning more than 30 degrees could recover. Then he should “heel” the boat - shifting the ballast water from the tilting side to the other. I wonder if the Sewol ferry was heeled. The chief engineer who should have been pumping the ballast water ordered his engineers to escape at 9 a.m., only 10 minutes after the ship began to list.

Where should the captain and crew have been?

The rules of the sea are clear. When an accident occurs, the captain commands the situation from the bridge. The chief engineer must be present in the engine room at the bottom of the ship. The first officer should be at the scene, checking the damage and reporting via radio. When a “boom” sound was heard, just as this time, he should run to the cargo section. The second officer is in charge of communication and lifeboats, and the third officer must stay by the captain and repeat the commands out loud. None of the crew members held his position. All eight crew members were at the bridge, meaning they were only concerned with their own rescue and didn’t care about the ship or the passengers.

Then why do you think Chonghaejin is professional?

Immediately after the accident, Chonghaejin was obsessed with two things: they claimed the ship did not veer off course and they didn’t fabricate the cargo volume. The Sewol is involved in a complicated reinsurance policy with a British company, and a lengthy suit is inevitable. The ongoing prosecution investigation is only the beginning. When the ship is salvaged, the National Forensic Service and the British insurance company will investigate. The investigation would be based on U.K. admiralty law. According to the U.K. law, the insurance compensation depends on the intentionality of deviation from the route and seaworthiness. Chonghaejin seems to be well-versed in maritime insurance policies after handling frequent accidents so far. Since the accident, it seems to be following a thorough calculation.

What do you think is the intention of Chonghaejin?

It wants to take the profit on its own and share the risk with the society. Ships for overseas service are required to have a bill of lading, but coastal cargo is rarely insured. Chonghaejin may feel it will have to pay compensation for the 3,788 tons of cargo it was transporting. Also, it would get no insurance money for the automobiles on the ferry. Including rescue and salvage, that bill could easily add up to hundreds of millions of dollars. So, Yoo Byung-eon, the de facto owner of the company, declared he would contribute his “entire assets of 10 million dollars.” He is basically saying society will have to pay the rest.

How about the reaction of Korean society?

It may be too impulsive and emotional. Let’s look at the ban on school trips. After the Shiun Maru ferry sank in 1955, killing 168 elementary and middle school students on a field trip, the Japanese authorities encouraged school trips and built a swimming pool in every elementary school to prepare for an accident at sea. It is also important for the government to establish a disaster control tower and manual. But it is more important to honor them.

At the moment, we need to focus on the investigation and punishment of the captain and crew members of the ferry and Chonghaejin, who are primarily responsible for the disaster.

What is your opinion and reaction to the incident?

I am ashamed that Korea is the fifth-largest shipping country in the world. The day after the accident, rescue specialists from Europe and Japan came to Jindo at their own expense. They not only provided technical advice but also acquired know-how from the accident. That’s how internationally recognized rescue services and specialists are trained.

I want to clarify one thing. Two weeks ago, I pointed out that the minister of oceans and fisheries did not know about the sea. However, I was impressed that Lee Ju-young is staying at the scene, despite the criticism by the victims’ families. It is just horrifying to imagine former Minister Yoon Jin-sook giggling before the victims’ families.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 12, Page 34

*The author is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Lee Chul-ho

Correction and rebuttal statement by the Evangelical Baptist Church

The Korea JoongAng Daily, regarding the reports since April 16, 2014, about the Evangelical Baptist Church (EBC) and Yoo Byung-eun, is publishing the following corrections and an excerpt from the rebuttal statement by the EBC.


Through three past investigations by the prosecution, it has been revealed that Yoo and the EBC, also known as the “Salvation Group” and Guwonpa in Korean, are not related to the Odaeyang mass suicide incident. That was also confirmed by the prosecution in its official statement on May 21. The prosecution’s investigation also found that Yoo had not made an attempt to smuggle himself out of the country or seek political asylum in France. We, therefore, correct the concerned reports.

Yoo retired from his executive management position in 1997. He did not own any shares in the noted companies, nor had he managed operations or used the operating funds for personal reasons. There are no grounds to call him the actual owner and chairman of the company. As such, he did not provide any directives in regards to the overloading of the Sewol ferry or its renovation.

It was verified that the captain and crew members who abandoned ship at the time of the Sewol ferry accident are not members of the EBC. It has also been verified that the EBC does not own any shares of Chonghaejin Marine Company and did not engage in its management.

Rebuttal statement

The EBC’s position is that the museums in the United States and Europe can never authorize an exhibition unless the artistic value of an artist’s works is recognized by the screening committee, irrespective of the amount of money an artist donates. The EBC’s position is that the exhibitions were not a result of Mr. Yoo’s patronage or donation, and Yoo also has not coerced Chonghaejin and its affiliates to purchase his photos.

The EBC states that Yoo did not participate in the foundation of the EBC in 1981, and the church does not offer him the title “pastor.” It also says a significant part of the 240 billion won ($206 million) worth of assets suspected of belonging to the Yoo family are real estate properties owned by the farming associations, which had been established by church members.

The EBC states that there are certain churches in Korea that call the EBC a cult, solely based on differences between their’s and the EBC’s doctrines.

But the EBC does not worship a particular individual as a religious sect leader or preach any doctrine that contradicts the Bible.
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