+ A

Sewol group scrutinizes rescue delays

Plans to ask prosectors to investigate top Coast Guard officials
Nov 14,2019
A special investigation commission of the 2014 Sewol ferry tragedy that’s mostly composed of civilian experts, surviving victims and their families relayed plans on Wednesday to formally ask prosecutors to probe why the Coast Guard allegedly delayed helicopter rescue operations on the day of the deadly sinking.

The decision was a step further from the group’s announcement two weeks ago on Oct. 31, when the commission, called the Special Investigation Commission on Humidifier Disinfectants & 4·16 Sewol Ferry Disaster, claimed that a helicopter dispatched for the rescue operation was used by senior officials in the Coast Guard, including its head. At the same time, a student who was rescued from the sunken Sewol ferry was transported to a hospital using three different boats, which took 4 hours and 41 minutes. The student died before arriving at the hospital.

A helicopter ride would have taken just 20 minutes, the commission said.

The commission said it was planning to ask prosecutors to investigate those who were in the top echelons of the Coast Guard at the time the maritime accident occurred on April 16, 2014, on charges of professional negligence resulting in death.

The group also said it recently asked prosecutors to investigate allegations that KDB Bank illegally granted loans to Cheonghaejin Marine Company, which operated the Sewol ferry.

The commission believes that workers at the bank colluded with workers in the marine company in handing over 10 billion won ($8.6 million) worth of loans to buy equipment, and a separate loan of 1.95 billion won for other matters related to the running of the company. The commission specifically named five workers at the bank and two workers in the marine company to be grilled on charges of dereliction of duty.

According to the commission, the KDB Bank employees who granted the loans had no authority to review the company’s financial status and green-light the funds. In reviewing the company’s financial records and authoring documents to grant the money, the commission believes that the bank workers and Cheonghaejin employees faked papers that overvalued the company’s vessels.

The commission on Wednesday vowed to produce a “synergy” effect with the prosecution’s newly launched Sewol special investigation committee, stressing that it hopes to combine prosecutors’ “swiftness” with its “prudence.”

“Organic cooperation” between prosecutors is “quintessential” to punish those who hold responsibility for the Sewol ferry tragedy, the commission highlighted, while adding it would “actively work” with the prosecution to prove the myriad of Sewol-related allegations.

At the order of Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl, the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office launched a special investigation team last week to reinvestigate various unresolved suspicions surrounding the deadly ferry accident.

Im Gwan-hyeok, head of the Ansan Branch of the Suwon District Prosecutors’ Office, was named as the head of the new investigation team.

Since the ferry’s sinking, a series of investigations took place to uncover the reasons behind the accident, abysmal rescue operations, poor government response and subsequent cover-up attempts.

The prosecution’s latest investigation is the seventh of its kind.

BY KIM TAE-HO [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]