Navy chief grilled over immobilized salvage ship

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Navy chief grilled over immobilized salvage ship

The governmental audit authority unprecedentedly questioned the head of the Navy earlier this month concerning a salvage vessel that failed to be dispatched to the rescue site following the Sewol ferry accident in April, a source said Monday.

Korea’s Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI) is also looking into the Ministry of National Defense, the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) and the Navy over the incident.

According to an anonymous source on Monday, Navy Chief of Staff Hwang Ki-chul underwent four hours of intense interrogation by the Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI) as to why the Tongyeong, the first Korean-made rescue ship, was not mobilized when the Sewol ferry capsized on April 16 in waters off Jindo, South Jeolla.

Hwang’s questioning is a part of the BAI’s broader investigation into why the Tongyeong was not utilized in the emergency situation, which killed more than 300 people.

The case first came to light after New Politics Alliance for Democracy Rep. Kim Kwang-jin disclosed a document in May that stated that the Navy, the DAPA and the shipbuilder Daewoo had agreed to send the Tongyeong to the Sewol accident scene.

But despite the agreement, the ship was never mobilized.

The 3,500-ton Tongyeong, which cost nearly 160 billion won ($154 million), was built between 2010 and 2012 for the military to rescue ships in distress and tow away vessels damaged due to engine failure or enemy action, like the Cheonan warship, which was sunk by a North Korean torpedo in 2010.

The salvage vessel was constructed by Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering in conjunction with the military and launched in September 2012, though the Navy never took over the ship, questioning the performance of its remotely operated vehicle (ROV) and sonar. The delivery of the vessel, which remains idle at the Okpo Shipyard in Geoje, South Gyeongsang, has since been delayed three times.

The National Defense Ministry previously stated in April that the Tongyeong was being repaired because some of its equipment, such as its sonar system, “did not meet the standards set by the Navy.”

Hwang was in charge of selecting the sonar in January 2009 when he worked for the DAPA as the chief of the Naval Ships Program Department.

The source said that the watchdog was focusing on why Hwang did not select the type of sonar required by the Navy.

According to the source, the BAI also questioned a DAPA official about why the sonar for the Tongyeong cost around 4 billion won when typical sonar systems average around 200 million won.

The DAPA later explained that it had assigned the development of a new sonar system for the Tongyeong, with part of the costs going to research.

The source added that the BAI may report those determined to be responsible for the delay in Tongyeong’s mobilization to the military’s prosecution. The government watchdog is slated to announce the results of its broader investigation regarding the three military authorities in November.

BY CHANG SE-JEONG AND HUH JIN [bongmoon@joongang.co.kr]













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