Geum Yi

Unanswered questions in ferry sinking

April 23, 2014
Ferry 2

Rescuers are searching for survivors, and investigators are looking for answers.

The nation was hoping against hope Thursday that more survivors from the sunken ferry Sewol would be found. They can only wait. (Yonhap)

Some are still waiting for their loved one’s return. (Yonhap)

By Tae Hong

A week has gone by since the sinking of the ferry boat Sewol, taking with it more than 150 lives — a number that continues to rise with ongoing rescue efforts.

South Koreans mourn for those who are lost and for those who are dead. The crew members of the ferry, including the captain, face serious charges and public outrage. The government, the shipowner and Korea’s general negligence of safety regulations on ships is under similar fire. Yellow ribbons of hope litter fences, doorways and chat room avatars.

Amid the chaos, unanswered questions have come to light.

Why did the ship suddenly change course?

According to the Sewol’s Automatic Identification System, or AIS, the ship made a 45-degree “J-shaped” turn while being helmed by the third mate.

Ships in the ferry’s size need at least 200 m to make a safe and gradual turn, an official for a large domestic ship company said.

Investigators determined Monday that the cause of the turn was not to avoid an obstacle as initially believed. Crew members have not yet explained why the boat was turned.

The ferry’s sudden change in course caused overloaded cargo to sweep the boat onto its left side and eventually sunk the boat, investigators say.

Why did the captain leave the steering room?

Lee Jun-suk, the 69-year-old captain who has worked on the seas for about four decades, left charge of the steering wheel to an inexperienced third mate.

He said during the investigation that he went to his bedroom to take care of personal business but has not yet clarified his exact reason for leaving.

According to investigators, Lee re-entered the steering room after the ship had already leaned 60 degrees to the left.

A video confirmed that he later donned civilian clothes and was one of the first to escape the sinking boat.

Why was the wrong channel used to call for help?

In the audio transcript, crewmembers of the ship used a special channel 12, not the widely understood channel 16, to request for help.

The unexplained choice in channels delayed rescue time, according to officials.

Why are 36 seconds missing from the AIS signal?

According to JTBC, the AIS signal was cut off for a period of 36 seconds from 8:48:37 a.m. to 8:49:13 a.m. while the ship was making its 45-degree turn.

Following the missing period, the ship began experiencing its first signs of distress, reports say.