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Prosecution seeks to indict fugitive Sewol owner

Investigators look into alleged negligence of Jindo vessel traffic center

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Published : 2014-06-30 19:51
Updated : 2014-06-30 21:49

The prosecution reportedly plans to indict the fugitive Yoo Byung-eun, even if it fails to arrest the owner of the sunken ferry Sewol, as investigators have already secured testimony that after modifications, the vessel had a weakened ability to recover its balance at the time of its sinking.

While the prosecution said it may choose to indict him before his capture, it asserted that remarks from Yoo’s aides could fulfil requirements to indict the runaway.

According to investigators at the Incheon District Prosecutors’ Office, Kim Han-shik, the chief of Chonghaejin Marine Co. ― the operator of the Sewol ― notified Yoo of the risks of overloading it with freight early this year.
Government officials including Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin (right) take oaths to testify before the National Assembly’s Sewol investigations committee on Monday at the National Assembly. (Lee Gil-dong/The Korea Herald)

Kim admitted the refurbished ferry’s weakened ability in terms of restoring force due to an extension in the number of cabins several years ago.

The arrest warrant for custody, which was issued by the Incheon District Court on May 22, for the 73-year-old fugitive expires on July 22.

If the prosecution seeks to indict Yoo, irrespective of whether or not he is apprehended, it will most likely cite “homicide by negligence” in its coming application of criminal law against the ferry owner. Yoo has been specified as the “chairman” on the payroll of Chonghaejin Marine.

Five staffers including Kim Han-shik of the marine company had already been indicted for this type of culpable homicide.

Meanwhile, investigators are scrutinizing the allegation that some Coast Guard officials at the vessel traffic service on Jindo Island, South Jeolla Province, neglected their duties when the sinking occurred on April 16.

Further, a news report alleged that two employees at the Jindo VTS center fled from their workplace at that time (in the morning on April 16).

Though the prosecution downplayed the possibility of the employees’ breach of duty at the present stage, it pledged to make a full-fledged inquiry into the situation at the VTS center. Investigators are closely analyzing CCTV footage and the communication between the Jindo VTS center and crewmen of the sunken ferry.

One of the main subjects of its probe is the lapse of time before the VTS center responded to emergency calls from the ill-fated vessel. It reportedly took more than 15 minutes before the Sewol crewmen received a response from the VTS center.

Prosecutors allege that the sailors left the ship as it was sinking while telling passengers, mostly high school students on a school excursion, to stay inside their cabins. The sailors were among the first to be rescued by Coast Guard personnel sent to the accident site.

By Kim Yon-se (kys@heraldcorp.com)

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