Monday 9 December 2019

Captain 'warned of ferry stability'

A woman places a candle to form the word 'love' during a service paying tribute to the victims of the sunken ferry Sewol in Seoul, South Korea (AP)
A woman places a candle to form the word 'love' during a service paying tribute to the victims of the sunken ferry Sewol in Seoul, South Korea (AP)
A memorial to the victims of the sunken ferry Sewol in Ansan, south of Seoul (AP)

An off-duty captain of the sunken South Korean ferry has told investigators the owners ignored his warning it should not carry too much cargo because it was not very stable, a prosecutor said.

The captain was on leave on the day of the accident two weeks ago that has left more than 300 people, mostly high school students, dead or missing and caused widespread shame and grief.

The ferry was piloted on April 16 by a substitute captain, Lee Joon-seok, who is being detained along with 14 other crew members involved in navigating the Sewol.

Yang Jung-jin, a senior prosecutor on the team investigating the sinking, would not say when the captain - who is being named by his surname, Shin, only - warned the company and did not know if he gave multiple warnings.

A stability test report on January 24 from the Korean Register of Shipping shows the ferry became top-heavy and less stable after a modification that involved adding more cabins on some floors between October 2012 and February 2013.

Divers have recovered 212 bodies from the wreckage off the southern coast. They fought strong currents and floating debris inside the ship again today as they searched for 90 passengers still missing.

Senior prosecutor Ahn Sang-don said authorities have detained an employee at Chonghaejin Marine Company, the ferry's owner, on suspicion of accidental homicide stemming from professional negligence in connection with the sinking.

Ahn said they are seeking to detain another company employee over the same suspicions.

Meanwhile, the family members of high school students killed in the sinking have dismissed President Park Geun-hye's apology for the government's handling of the disaster as insincere.

They called for the quick retrieval of the missing. The ship carried 476 people, mostly from a single high school. Only 174 people survived, including 22 of the 29 crew members.

After several days of sluggish search efforts because of bad weather, divers yesterday retrieved more than a dozen bodies from the ship, which lies on the ocean floor.

Ms Park apologised for the government's inept initial response to the sinking. It came amid rising indignation over claims by the victims' relatives that the government did not do enough to rescue or protect their loved ones.

Earlier yesterday, she visited a memorial set up in Ansan city, where the high school students are from.

Some angry family members shouted at her, demanded an apology and moved away condolence flowers sent by Ms Park and other top officials, according to South Korean media reports.

"What Park did at the memorial alter was like coming there to shoot an advertisement, surrounded by bodyguards," Yu Gyeong-geun, the father of one of the students, said.

PA Media

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