Ill-fated Korean Ferry May Have Been Going too Fast

Joseph Keefe
Monday, April 21, 2014

It should have been plain sailing for a South Korean ferry carrying hundreds of children and their teachers on an outing to the sub-tropical island of Jeju, an annual trip for Danwon High School.

The Sewol had 476 passengers and crew on board, including 339 children and teachers. It had an experienced captain, was navigating well-known waters and had passed its annual inspections since it was bought second hand in 2012 by Chonghaejin Marine Co. Ltd.

But prosecutors believe the vessel capsized after turning at too high a speed. Sixty-four people are known to have died and 238 are missing, presumed dead, mostly children.

In an arrest document, the captain was charged with undertaking an "excessive change of course without slowing down" while traversing a channel off South Korea's southwestern tip. He was also charged with negligence in evacuating passengers.

The sequence of known events however offers little clarity on why the ship should have turned at speed.

According to fishermen and others who navigate the tidal waters around Jindo island where the Sewol started to sink last Wednesday, the route followed by the ferry from the port of Incheon to Jeju was regularly used by ferries and larger vessels such as oil tankers.

There were few navigation risks in the main channel, they said. The Korean Meteorological Association said there was a 0.5 metre swell. It was cloudy, but there was no fog.

"The shores of the islands nearby drop straight down," said Hwang Wan-soon, captain of a 9.77 ton fishing boat who has 40 years' experience sailing in the area.

Han Sang-sik, head of the Jindo office of the Dadohae Haesang National Park - an area covering 1,700 islets - said the channel in the spot where the Sewol sank was 37-43 metres (122-142 feet) deep and the channel itself was 3 km (two miles) wide, offering plenty of room for manoeuvre.

"People living in nearby islands say fishing boats tend to avoid the area at full moon as the current is especially strong at that time," he said. There was a full moon the night before the accident.

But that should not have been an issue for the Sewol, with a gross tonnage of almost 7,000 tonnes and one of the largest passenger ferries in operation in Korean waters.

The accident happened when the ship made an abrupt turn and started to list sharply. That's when the ship was suspected of going too fast. It was not clear if the sudden change of direction was one of two scheduled course changes to navigate the channel.

BOUGHT SECOND-HAND


The vessel was bought second-hand from Japan's A-Line shipping company, reconfigured and expanded and was subject to a five-month testing period by the Korea Register of Shipping between October 2012 and February 2013 before it entered service on March 15, 2013.

It was subjected to an annual check again in February 2014.

Jung Young-jun, executive vice president of the survey division at Korean Register of Shipping, said the capacity expansion from 800 to 900 passengers was completed in accordance with "national laws and Korean Register requirements".

Evidence given to prosecutors and from the dialogue between the ship and control centres say cargo started to shift on the foredeck, but it was not clear whether that caused the boat to heel after the turn or was a consequence of the heeling.

Moon Ki-han, an executive at Uryeon (Union Transport Co.), the firm that undertook supervision of cargo loading, told Reuters there were 105 containers onboard.

Of these, 45 were loaded on to the front deck and 60 into the lower decks. In total, the ship was carrying 3,600 tonnes of cargo including containers, vehicles and other goods.

One of the lines of investigation is that a sharp turn could have caused the cargo to shift, which in turn could have contributed to the swift capsizing of the ship. Investigators have seized the records of Uryeon and the ship owner.

The captain was not on the bridge at the time of the initial listing - not unusual on a 13.5-hour voyage. Navigation was the responsibility of a 26-year-old third mate on her first passage in charge through these waters.

Transcripts of conversations between the bridge of the Sewol and land-based shipping control indicate that the ferry initially contacted the control in Jeju island about 56 miles (90 km) away and not the nearest centre on nearby Jindo island when it started to list.

It is normal procedure to use the destination control as the centre except in the case of an emergency and it is not known why the radio operator continued to contact Jeju.

At 08:55 a.m on April 16, while traversing the Maenngol Channel, the Sewol told Jeju Vessel Traffic Service: "This ship is in danger. This ship is listing."

A minute later the ship radioed: "This ship is starting to capsize. Please come quickly." By 9 a.m, it had reported the ship had tilted leftward. "Containers have fallen," it said.

At 0905 a.m., Jeju control contacted the Jindo station, which was in a position to call for assistance from local vessels.

Testimony from witnesses and the transcript of the conversation between the ship's bridge and the control centre in Jindo shows that the crew of the ship did not believe there were enough rescue vessels in the area to save the passengers.

ONLY TWO LIFEBOATS DEPLOYED


It was not known why no more than two of the Sewol's 46 lifeboats were deployed, nor why the captain and crew did not follow emergency procedures laid down in their own manual.

"In case of fire, collision, retreat, terror and any other emergency, the crew should follow the captain's command; make an announcement of an evacuation and (location of) the emergency exit doors; guide (passengers) to escape routes in the area of their responsibility," the manual says, adding that lifeboats and lifebuoys should be checked monthly.

Witness testimony and the conclusion of prosecutors investigating the sinking show that the captain and some of the crew evacuated the ship before most of the passengers, who were instructed in some cases to remain where they were.

Later transcripts show the decision to evacuate being placed in the hands of the captain and under the standing rules of the ship, it was the captain's final decision.

"We don't know the situation over there, so captain you should make a final decision about whether or not to evacuate the ship," the control on the island of Jindo said. (Additional reporting by Jumin Park, James Pearson, Narae Kim, Kahyun Kim and Keith Wallis; Writing by David Chance; Editing by Nick Macfie and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

 

By Joyce Lee and Sohee Kim

Maritime Reporter February 2015 Digital Edition
FREE Maritime Reporter Subscription
Latest Maritime News    rss feeds

Legal

IACS and European Commission Hold Joint Workshop to Kick Off European Shipping Week

The International Association of Classification Societies (IACS) held a joint workshop in Brussels with the European Commission to kick off European Shipping Week, the association announced today.

Cosco Boxship Detained Over Illegal Arms

Colombian authorities detained a vessel operated by China's largest shipping group for illegally transporting thousands of cannon shells, about 100 tonnes of gunpowder

Kvichak, Vigor Announce Merger

Merger positions combined company to play a dominant role in recapitalization of North Pacific fishing fleet and emerging Arctic oil gas operations. Kvichak

Passenger Vessels

Gulf Craft Makes a Splash with New Luxurious Yachts

UAE-based yacht and boat builder, Gulf Craft has made three global launches of latest super yacht - the Majesty 122, the Nomad 65 and 75 from the new collection

Genting Acquires Crystal Cruises

Crystal Cruises has been sold for $550 million to the owner of Asia's largest cruise line and a major shareholder of Norwegian Cruise Line.    Crystal's parent company,

Carnival Cruise Line Shuffles Ships

A few weeks after Carnival Cruise Line announced plans to move the Carnival Liberty and Breeze to Galveston, the cruise line announced the future homes of the Carnival Triumph,

Casualties

Vancouver Port Fire Leads To Evacuation

A chemical fire at a Vancouver container terminal led to a partial evacuation of Canada’s largest port for several hours Wednesday afternoon, as a cloud of white

Fire Aboard US Navy Ship

A fire broke out aboard a U.S. Navy amphibious dock landing ship USS Gunston Hall (LSD 44) at approximately 2 p.m. yesterday while the ship was undergoing maintenance

Cargo Vessel Grounded on Scottish Coast Towed Today

The towing of the DFDS cargo vessel Lysblink Seaways began today at 1:00pm local time, the UK's Maritime Coast Guard Agency announced.   The vessel ran aground

Coast Guard

Cargo Vessel Grounded on Scottish Coast Towed Today

The towing of the DFDS cargo vessel Lysblink Seaways began today at 1:00pm local time, the UK's Maritime Coast Guard Agency announced.   The vessel ran aground

Cosco Boxship Detained Over Illegal Arms

Colombian authorities detained a vessel operated by China's largest shipping group for illegally transporting thousands of cannon shells, about 100 tonnes of gunpowder

Rescue 21 Achieves 'SOLAS' Declaration from DHS

The U.S. Coast Guard is declaring 'Sea Area A1' service in certain areas off the coast of the United States based on the performance of the General Dynamics-built Rescue 21 system.

Maritime Safety

Ships Can’t Cope with Flow of Immigrants in Mediterranean

Merchant ship owners can’t cope with increasing flows of refugees trying to cross from Africa and the Middle East to countries like Greece and Italy, says a report

Vancouver Port Fire Leads To Evacuation

A chemical fire at a Vancouver container terminal led to a partial evacuation of Canada’s largest port for several hours Wednesday afternoon, as a cloud of white

6 NATO Ships Begin Joint Black Sea Exercise

Six NATO warships, including Turkish, Bulgarian and Romanian vessels, have arrived to the Black Sea to start joint training exercises.    NATO ships assigned

History

Sunken Japanese WWII Battleship Found

Seventy years after the conclusion of World War II, philanthropist and entrepreneur Paul G. Allen has located the Musashi, one of the two largest and most technologically

US, Australian, Indonesian Navies Commemorate Battle of Sunda Strait

Senior officials from the United States, Australia and Indonesia paid their respects to the crews of USS Houston (CA 30) and HMAS Perth (D 29) during a wreath laying ceremony March 1,

Rotterdam Port Receives Largest Box Ship

The MSC Oscar arrived on Tuesday (yesterday) at the APM1 terminal in Rotterdam. With a capacity of 19,224 TEU (20-foot containers), the 396 meters long and 59

Ferries

VesselVanguard Partners with Hatteras Yachts

VesselVanguard announced today a new partnership with Hatteras Yachts to provide a five-year subscription for its award-winning maintenance management solution

Winter in US Northeast Takes a Toll on Ferries

With its black hull rumbling against a field of broken ice, the Warren Jr. slowly eased away from a dock in the Boston suburb of Hingham on Tuesday, aiming to clear

Corvus Energy Wins Order for Battery Hybrid Ferries

Scandlines ferries designed with battery hybrid propulsion to operate on the Rostock-Gedser commercial route.    Corvus Energy, Siemens AS and Scandlines have

 
 
Maritime Contracts Maritime Security Maritime Standards Offshore Oil Pipelines Pod Propulsion Ship Electronics Ship Simulators Sonar Winch
rss | archive | history | articles | privacy | terms and conditions | contributors | top maritime news | about us | copyright | maritime magazines
maritime security news | shipbuilding news | maritime industry | shipping news | maritime reporting | workboats news | ship design | maritime business

Time taken: 0.6409 sec (2 req/sec)