Moon Ki-han, a vice president at Union Transport Co., which loaded the Sewol's cargo, said it was carrying an estimated 3,608 tons of cargo. That is far more than what the coast guard said Capt. Lee Joon-seok reported in paperwork submitted to the Korea Shipping Association: 150 cars and 657 tons of other cargo. Motor vehicles typically weigh about a ton each.
Lawmaker Kim Yung-rok of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy, an opposition party, said he has documents from the Korean Register of Shipping that show the Sewol was carrying more than three and a half times more cargo than regulators allowed. His office released only a portion of the documents to The Associated Press on Thursday.
Kim said a register inspector, examining the ship as it was being modified to carry more passengers, found that its center of gravity had been raised 51 centimetres, and its cargo limit would have to be reduced by more than half, from 2,437 tons to 987 tons. The modifications were made in late 2012 and early 2013.
Officials with South Korea's maritime ministry and coast guard each said they were not even aware of the Sewol's cargo capacity, saying it was the shipping association's job to oversee it. The shipping association is private and is partly funded by the industry it regulates.
Even the report by the inspector reflects "a problem in the system," said Lee Gwee Bok, president of Incheon Port Development Association and a former captain. He said the Sewol never should have been cleared for operation because the register should have known the shipowner would never meet the conditions.
Kim talked to Park at a Mokpo detention facility. He said she told him she ordered a helmsman to make a 5-degree turn that was part of the ship's normal course, but the steering gear turned too far and the helmsman could not turn it back. Tracking data show that the ship made a 45-degree turn, and that it turned about 180 degrees over about three minutes just before it began to sink April 16.
Kim said he suspects a problem in the steering gear was behind the ship's sinking, together with freight that was reportedly secured too loosely. He cited reports that the ship's turn led some freight to shift to one side, making the vessel unbalanced.
He said that if the freight had been loaded on the ship tightly enough, the vessel would not have capsized even if the steering gear didn't work.
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