Chonghaejin Marine, the owner of the sunken South Korean ferry, ignored an off-duty captain’s warnings about the ship’s stability, prosecutors have said.
They say the captain warned that the Sewol ferry should not carry too much cargo after it was refurbished. Two company officials have been detained.
The vessel was carrying three times its recommended maximum cargo weight.
The Sewol ferry had 476 passengers on board when it sank on April 16 – 174 were rescued. More than 200 bodies have been found.
Most of those on board were high school students. About 90 people are still missing and divers are searching for them off South Korea’s southern coast near Jindo.
The refurbishment carried out by owners Chonghaejin Marine took place between October 2012 and February last year, shortly after the company purchased the Sewol ferry.
They built extra passenger cabins on the third, fourth and fifth decks.
The off-duty captain, named by prosecutors as Shin, had warned the company that this move had altered the 6,825-tonne ship’s balance and undermined its ability to stabilize itself.
Prosecutors said these warnings were brushed aside, according to news agencies.
On top of that, the ferry was carrying more than three times its recommended maximum cargo. It had left the port of Incheon with 3,606 tonnes of freight and cargo.
Investigators are now looking into whether the ship sank from overloading and changes in the structure of the ship, and whether it had enough ballast water to accommodate the extra load.
The ferry’s refurbishment had been approved and met safety standards, but Chonghaejin may have made additional changes afterward, said investigators.
Two Chonghaejin officials have been detained on suspicion of accidental homicide, stemming from professional negligence in connection with the sinking, Yonhap news agency reported on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, the company’s chief executive officer Kim Han-sik was summoned to the prosecutor’s office in Incheon for questioning.
It has also emerged that the captain who was piloting the Sewol on the day of the accident, Lee Joon-seok, was a substitute for Shin, who was on holiday.
Lee Joon-seok has since been detained with 14 other crew members.
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