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 Friday as authorities worried that 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. 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.
A court in the southern port city of Mokpo said in a release that it issued an arrest warrant for Kim because there are worries he may destroy evidence.
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.
Family members marched to the presidential Blue House in Seoul early Friday calling for a meeting with President Park Geun-hye, but were blocked by police. The relatives sat in the street near the presidential palace for hours and later voluntarily dispersed.
Park has apologized 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. Besides possible freight problems, prosecutors say they are looking into other factors, such as the turn made during the time the ship began listing, ocean currents and modifications made to the ship.