Ferry Operator Hid Evidence as Sewol Sank

Ferry operator Chonghaejin Marine was busy hiding evidence that the ferry had been overloaded shortly after receiving news that the ferry Sewol was sinking on April 16, rather than helping passengers, investigators said.

According to investigators, a crewmember phoned Chonghaejin at around 9:38 a.m., some 50 minutes after the ferry started to sink, informing staff that the ferry had capsized off the southwest coast. This was around the same time that a rescue cutter arrived at the scene.

The crewmember in charge of cargo phoned his superior at Chonghaejin and informed him that overloading appeared to be the cause of the accident and that it would be better to change the records to make it look as if the ferry was carrying less cargo.

The two exchanged several phone calls to alter the records, but there was no discussion about evacuating the passengers.

The Chonghaejin staffer then adjusted the data on the office computer by subtracting 180 tons of cargo.

Rescuers prepare for a underwater search on a barge near the ferry disaster site in Jindo, South Jeolla Province on Thursday. /Newsis Rescuers prepare for a underwater search on a barge near the ferry disaster site in Jindo, South Jeolla Province on Thursday. /Newsis

Investigators also obtained testimony that the Sewol was fitted with less weight of ballast water than required, in order to load more cargo.

Investigators also discovered that the Sewol's public announcement system was operating normally when the ferry was sinking. The ferry's crew had told a vessel tracking station in Jindo at 9:23 a.m., shortly after the accident, that it was impossible to make any announcements to the passengers on the PA.

The discoveries led to more raids on offices and homes of executives at Chonghaejin and other affiliates of the now-defunct Semo Group.

Prosecutors have summoned the son of Yoo Byung-eon, the de facto owner of Chonghaejin, as well as two other executives at affiliates. But the three individuals, who are overseas, failed to return to Korea by Thursday. Prosecutors now plan to freeze their bank accounts and cancel their passports.

englishnews@chosun.com / May 02, 2014 09:19 KST

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