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Report: S. Korean ferry operators prioritized profits over safety

By K.J. Kwon and Holly Yan, CNN
updated 5:27 PM EDT, Wed July 9, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Audit board: The ferry was licensed based on falsified documents
  • Investigators have said the ferry was carrying too much cargo
  • At least 292 people died, including more than 200 high school students
  • The captain and several crew members face murder charges

(CNN) -- The operators of the sunken Sewol ferry prioritized profit over safety, and the vessel was licensed based on falsified documents, South Korean investigators said in an interim report.

At least 292 people, including more than 200 high school students, died after the ferry sank in April. Eleven people remain missing.

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The government's Audit and Inspection Board said the disaster was man-made. It said that the Korean Register of Shipping licensed the modified vessel based on falsified documents. It didn't elaborate.

Investigators have said a vast amount of cargo, more than double the ferry's limit, and the failure to tie it down properly were partly responsible for the capsizing of the Sewol, which was carrying 476 passengers and crew.

The board said it is planning to reprimand officials from the Korean Register of Shipping, the Maritime Ministry and the Korea Shipping Association, which were found to have not performed properly safety protocols on the Sewol.

The board also said officials from the Coast Guard and Ministry of Security and Public Administration performed poorly in the initial response to the disaster.

The Sewol ferry was headed from Incheon to Jeju island on April 16 when it capsized. Most of the passengers were high school students on a field trip.

The captain, Lee Joon-seok, and three of his crew members face murder charges. If convicted, they could face the death penalty, although it has been nearly two decades since capital punishment was last carried out in South Korea.

Lee has pleaded not guilty. His attorney has said the captain is already living with guilt because he left the ferry before everybody was rescued.

Other crew members have been indicted on charges of abandonment and violating a ship safety act.

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CNN's Paula Hancocks contributed to this report.

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