Sewol Operator Plagued by Accidents
South Korean government data indicates that Chonghaejin Marine, the operator of the sunken ferry Sewol, experienced the largest number of accidents among the country's passenger ship companies during the last five years. Despite the poor record, Chonghaejin Marine was spared punitive measures, reports Yonhap News Agency.
According to the data compiled by the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, four vessels run by Chonghaejin were involved in a total of six accidents between 2009 and 2013, or about 10 per cent of the 59 accidents reported over that time. The data was made public by Kim Choon-jin of the main opposition party, New Politics Alliance for Democracy.
Chonghaejin has been under investigation after the sinking of Sewol. Of the 476 people on board, 269 have been confirmed dead, with 33 still missing.
Three weeks before Sewol sank, one of the company’s vessels, the Democracy No. 5, collided with a fishing boat off Incheon. In 2009, the Democracy No. 5 was adrift for nearly 12 hours with 358 people on board due to engine failure.
In 2011, a power failure caused the Ohamana to stop at sea. After undergoing emergency repair work, the ship with 622 passengers onboard, returned to Incheon.
Despite its track record, Chonghaejin was among 18 out of 56 ferry operators in the country most highly rated by customers in a survey by the maritime affairs ministry.
Investigators are looking into what prompted Chonghaejin to try to sell Sewol a month before it sank, along with its twin ship, the Ohamana. The operator was offering to sell the Sewol for US$16 million and the Ohamana for US$7.5 million.
"We are looking into suspicions that the management tried to hurriedly sell the two ships upon learning that the old ships had serious problems in maintaining stability," an official said. Investigations are still under way but overloading is being considered as one of the contributing factors to the vessel’s destabilization.