Unconfirmed claims by a civilian diver and false Internet rumors are holding back efforts to resolve the chaos that followed the Sewol’s sinking.
National Police Agency said Friday it is investigating a claim that the government had stopped civilian divers from participating in the search operation.
Earlier in the day, a civilian diver Hong Ga-hye said that government officials were stopping divers from entering the water. She said that contrary to the recent reports, cooperation between the government and the volunteers had been nonexistent.
Hong even alleged that the Coast Guard told civilian divers to “just kill time,” although she added that comments were relayed from other divers. She also said fellow divers had contacted survivors who were trapped inside the sunken ferry.
“The local police station is investigating where Hong came to obtain such information, and if she is actually a civilian diver as she claims to be,” the NPA said in a briefing.
The Coast Guard has already dismissed her claims as groundless.
MBN, who aired the interview with Hong, issued a public apology later in the day and said her comments had turned out to be false.
If the investigation finds that Hong deliberately lied or has spread information that she obtained from an unreliable source, she could be charged with libel.
The NPA also said that none of the messages supposedly sent by survivors stuck inside the boat after noon on Wednesday were authentic. Police did not comment on the messages that were sent before noon, when the ship was still sinking, many of which came with videos or photos of the ship sinking.
The Cyber Terror Response Center of the National Police Agency said they found that none of the phones of people onboard had been used since noon on the day of the accident.
Hours after the accident, internet users began to claim that they received messages from the survivors supposedly inside the sunken boat, begging for help.
One of the culprits behind the fake messages was a 15-year-old middle school student surnamed Kim, who lives in Seoul. Police said Kim wrote the message online as a joke, and it was distributed by Internet users.
An 11-year-old girl also surnamed Kim was revealed to have impersonated a missing person and posted a message asking for help.
The Science Ministry on Thursday warned of text message scams that used the tragic accident to lure victims.
“Those who distribute malicious false information for the purposes of slander or who hinder the search and rescue operation will be severely punished” the NPA said.
By Yoon Min-sik (firstname.lastname@example.org)