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Coast Guard, fire service offices raided

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Published : 2014-04-28 21:24
Updated : 2014-04-29 07:51

The investigation into the sinking of the ferry Sewol continued to expand Monday, bringing the Korean Coast Guard, emergency services and more financial entities linked to Yoo Byung-eon under scrutiny.

Yoo, former chairman of the defunct Semo Group, is thought to be the de facto owner of Sewol’s operator Chonghaejin Marine Co.

On Monday, investigators raided the offices of the Mokpo Coast Guard and Jeonnam Fire Service, whose initial response to the incident has been brought into question.

Although the Coast Guard was in contact with the Danwon High School student who first raised the alarm from about 8:54 a.m. on April 16, a Coast Guard ship was only dispatched at about 8:58 a.m. 
Sewol captain Lee Joon-seok, dressed in underwear, is seen being rescued by the Coast Guard off the coast of Jindo Island, South Jeolla Province, April 16. (Coast Guard)

The Coast Guard officer speaking with the student reportedly requested information that the student was unlikely to know such as the coordinates of the Sewol’s location.

As for South Jeolla Province’s fire service, it is suspected of failing to relay information it received from the student to the Coast Guard. The student’s call to the emergency service was received at 8:52 a.m.

While the investigation brings the Coast Guard, which is itself a part of the investigation team, under examination, Minister of Justice Hwang Kyo-ahn hinted that it could involve other government agencies.

“Regarding the shortcomings in responding to the Sewol accident, all state organizations including the Coast Guard are under examination,” Hwang told lawmakers of the parliamentary Legislation and Judiciary Committee on Monday.

Also on Monday, the prosecution examined irregularities in the business practices of Yoo and his family, and raided four more locations.

The locations include the offices of a paper company owned by Yoo, and residences of his relatives.

The Incheon District Prosecutors’ Office, which is heading the probe on Yoo, suspects that at least three paper companies were used to establish the Yoo family’s slush fund. The Yoos are also suspected of illegally moving as much as 100 billion won ($96.6 million) out of the country.

In addition, questions have been raised about the actions of Coast Guard officers who first reached the sinking ferry.

The video taken by the first responders shows that the Sewol’s captain Lee Joon-seok and other crew members were among the very first to be rescued. In addition, it is unclear from the video whether the Coast Guard officers tried to enter the ferry or whether the passengers were told to abandon ship.

The officers, for their part, defended their actions, saying that they did all they could given the situation.

According to Kim Kyung-il, the captain of the first Coast Guard vessel to respond, the order to abandon ship was given as soon as his ship arrived at the scene, prior to which nearby fishing vessels were mobilized to take on passengers.

“As the situation was very urgent, distinguishing between passengers and crew was not possible. Officers attempted to enter the ship but the incline was too steep and rescuing people already in the sea was the priority,” Kim said.

He added that officers of his ship broke a window to rescue people visible from the outside.

The video has also raised a further outcry about the actions of the crew. Within 15 minutes of the first Coast Guard ship arriving, the Sewol’s captain is seen leaving the ship in his underwear with a number of crew members from the bridge.

The bridge, where Lee and other crew members had gathered as the ship was sinking, is said to be less than 10 meters from passenger cabins.

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

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