Sewol: External Shock Not Ruled Out


Published Aug 6, 2018 5:51 PM by The Maritime Executive

A year-long investigation into the 2014 Sewol ferry disaster has concluded that the cause of the sinking was either problems with the ship or an unknown external shock such as collision with a submarine or other object.

According to the investigation panel, potential ship problems that could have caused the disaster were a sudden turn made by the ship, the excessive cargo loaded and modifications to the ferry that could have affected her stability and buoyancy. The Sewol was carrying twice her permitted cargo tonnage at the time of the capsize and the crew had reduced ballast to compensate. 

The 6,825-ton Sewol was carrying 476 passengers when she capsized off the southwestern coast of South Korea on April 16, 2014. Most of the 304 victims were high school students on a field trip.

The panel's investigations included examining the hull and conducting simulations, but opinions on the cause of the disaster remained divided. The panel's report has been submitted to President Moon Jae-in and requests that the wreck be preserved so that investigations can continue and to raise public awareness of the tragic accident, reports Yonhap News. 

In July, Seoul's Central District Court has ruled that families of the Sewol victims are to be paid 200 million won ($176,000) each. An additional payment will also be made to the parents and other family members. Adding in compensation for lost income for those that died, each family is set to receive around $530,000. 

The South Korean government has been criticized for what is widely seen as its botched rescue attempt. Dozens of officials and company officers have since been prosecuted in relation to the case. 

Members of the crew have also been criticized. Survivors said that shipboard intercom announcements at the time of the accident told passengers to stay in their cabins and await help. Meanwhile, the captain and crew departed the ferry in lifeboats and were the first on board Coast Guard vessels that responded to the situation.

Captain Lee Jun-seok was sentenced to life in prison in 2015 for the crime of “murder through willful negligence.” In announcing its decision, the court said that “it is fair to say that the captain knowingly and totally abandoned his role when he left the ship fully aware that passengers would drown.” 14 lower ranking crewmembers received sentences of between two and 12 years.