Wednesday, April 23, 2014




A recent report by the KOREA HERALD names business man  Yoo Byung-eon  as the owner of the ferry SEWOL. A controversial figure you may read about him by following either of the links above. Apparently he is something of a news worthy figure, to put it kindly , in Korea. There may have been something of a scandal behind his original acquisition of businesses licenses to run ferries. However from a maritime accident forensics point of view we find these two facts revealed in the KOREA HERALD article to be most informative. First  the ferry was acquired used from Japan. Few nations allow the purchase of foreign built vessels for domestic service between ports of the nation. This is called cabotage law and is quite common among seafaring states. So now the question must be asked was it against applicable South Korean law at the pertinent time, or did the owner have an exemption, and if so how did he come by it? There are two reasons why most nations frown on the use of foreign built vessels in the domestic ferry trade. First part of the reason for cabotage law is to protect the domestic ship building industry, allowing operators on domestic routes to buy foreign defeats this purpose. Second such equipment is often well used and repair, maintenance, and classification society inspection records sometimes a bit jumbled and confused.

 The second enlightening aspect of the Korea Herald article is that this owner had an additional deck added to increase passenger capacity and revenue. Now here we find another probable contributing factor to the proximate cause of the accident, the capsize. Such an addition changes the location of the center of gravity and in most nations such a modification has to be pre- approved by the Merchant Marine regulating body after a through plans review. After the addition, a new inclining experiment must be conducted and any corrections such as additional solid ballast made to assure that the center gravity has not risen too close to the center of buoyancy, a precondition of a capsize. Any errors or short cuts in this process and you have a probable major contributory factor in the capsize for which government, marine surveyors, the modification design naval architect, and the owner may have joint or several liability or even criminal culpability. It is unlikely the master presently under arrest had much if anything to do with this modification.

 Now keep in mind that there is also evidence of a hard and sudden turn to starboard. The Captain was not on the bridge for that turn, the mate was but both are under arrest and if their attorney is smart, they are probably not talking. There is also evidence of broken straps and lose cargo or automobiles in the main hold. All of these are contributing factors in the proximate cause of the loss of life, the initial capsize. 

As we said before ain't oiver until the fat lady sings.


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