The head of the firm that operated the doomed South Korean ferry Sewol has been detained over allegations of overloading the vessel.
Investigators believe that excessive and improperly stowed freight may have caused the Sewol to capsize off the southwest coast of South Korea on April 16 with 476 people on board. Kim Han-sik, president of Chonghaejin, was detained Thursday ahead of any possible formal charges.
“I feel very sorry for the victims …. their family members. I committed a grave sin,” Kim told South Korean television outside a detention facility in the southern port city of Mokpo.
All 15 surviving crew members with responsibilities for the stricken vessel’s navigation have already been arrested and could face charges of negligence and failing to protect passengers. Four other Chonghaejin employees had already been arrested prior to the detention of Kim.
According to documents, the Sewol was carrying more than three times its cargo limit when it sank en route from the port city of Inchon to the vacation island of Jeju.
Meanwhile, officials say that a “clerical error” means the true death toll from the tragedy is likely to be 304. On Wednesday, the national coastguard chief admitted that only 172 people had survived the disaster, and not 174 as officials had previously maintained. Thirty-five people remain missing and are presumed dead. More than four-fifths of the passengers were teenagers on a high school outing.
South Korea’s prime minister said Wednesday that the onus was on divers to complete their search of the sunken hulk by Saturday, when hitherto weak tidal currents are forecast to intensify once again.