Seoul: The head of the company that owns a South Korean ferry that sank and left more than 300 people dead or missing was formally arrested today as authorities worry he may destroy evidence, officials said.
Kim Han-sik, president of Chonghaejin Marine Co Ltd, became the company's fifth person under arrest after investigators raised suspicion that improper stowage and overloading of cargo might have contributed to the April 16 disaster.
This photo taken at sea some 20 kilometres off the island of Byungpoong in Jindo on April 16, 2014 shows coast guard members searching for passengers near a South Korean ferry (C) that capsized on its way to Jeju island from Incheon. South Korean rescue teams, including elite navy SEAL divers, raced on April 16 to find up to 293 people missing from a capsized ferry carrying 459 passengers and crew -- mostly high school students bound for a holiday island. Photo: AFP
Kim is facing allegations that he was aware that the ferry exceeded its cargo limit but didn't do anything to stop it from leaving port, according to prosecutors.
Senior prosecutor Yang Jung-jin of a joint investigation team confirmed Kim's arrest. More than three weeks after the sinking, 273 bodies have been retrieved most of them high school students with 31 others still missing.
Search teams have been hampered by strong currents, bad weather and floating debris inside the ship. A civilian diver fell unconscious while searching and died on Tuesday.
Relatives of the dead and missing passengers and many other South Koreans have been highly critical of the government's handling of the operation and the regulatory failures that may have allowed the disaster to happen. President Park Geun-hye has apologised over the sinking at least three times during meetings with top officials, religious leaders and in a speech marking Buddha's birthday. Family members insist she deliver a separate speech to the nation.
All 15 surviving crew members involved in the ferry's navigation have been arrested, accused of negligence and failing to protect passengers.