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[Ferry Disaster] Probe sweeps across shipping industry

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Published : 2014-04-25 22:23
Updated : 2014-04-25 22:30

Former and incumbent Korea Register of Shipping (KR) officials were banned from leaving the country on Friday as the repercussions from the sinking of the ferry Sewol reverberated through the country’s shipping industry.

According to the Busan District Prosecutors’ Office, current and former KR officials including former CEO Oh Gong-kyun have been barred from leaving the country on suspicion of a number of corrupt practices.

Oh, who held a high-level post in the maritime ministry, was also investigated by the Coast Guard for allegedly misappropriating 93.5 million won ($90,000) of the KR’s funds when he was serving as its CEO between 2012 and 2013.

Of the others affected by Friday’s measure, three are suspected of embezzling government research grants.

The Busan prosecution is examining materials taken from the KR’s office during Thursday’s raid and plans to begin questioning suspects next week.

Meanwhile, the search for the missing slowed to a crawl, hampered by currents.

With the weather forecast to deteriorate over the weekend, the authorities spurred on the search operations, focusing on cabins on the right side of Sewol’s fourth deck, where a large number of Danwon High School students are thought to have been at the time of the sinking. Students from the school in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province, accounted for 325 of the 476 passengers. Only 75 students have been rescued.

The search is to be aided by U.S. Naval Ship Safeguard, the U.S.’ military rescue vessel, from the early hours of Saturday.

The investigation on the Sewol’s operator, Chonghaejin Marine Co., is also gaining momentum. The investigators are said to have found evidence of a wide range of irregularities in the financial dealings of the company’s owners, including slush funds and funds siphoned off from a church associated with the company’s founder, Yoo Byung-eon.

The probe also revealed that the company’s other ferry, the Ohamana, was fitted with substandard safety equipment as well.

As the investigations into the developments surrounding the Sewol expand, reports have emerged that the Coast Guard may also come under scrutiny. Since the ship’s sinking, the Coast Guard has been lambasted for allegedly mishandling the initial response and ensuing search and rescue operations.

According to the investigation team, the possibility is open, but there are no immediate plans to begin probing the Coast Guard.

“We simply reiterated the position we took when the joint investigation was launched,” a prosecutor taking part in the probe said, declining to be named.

When the investigation was launched, its chiefs said that all issues surrounding the incident, including the rescue operations, would be scrutinized.

“We are looking at everything, and (an investigation into the Coast Guard) may be launched if necessary.”

By Choi He-suk (cheesuk@heraldcorp.com)

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