An independent panel looking into a 2014 ferry sinking that took more than 300 lives said Thursday the surveillance footage retrieved by the Navy from the vessel could have been doctored.
The Special Commission on Social Disaster Investigation raised the allegation, citing that footage of the Sewol later handed over to state prosecutors shows different content.
“We have discovered possible evidence, based on which we can suspect that the recording the Navy and the Coast Guard claim to have collected from the ship on June 22, 2014, is not identical to the footage secured by the prosecution,” an official from the commission told a press conference in Seoul.
According to the panel’s findings, the footage handed to the prosecution only had recordings time-stamped until 8:46 a.m., three minutes before the initial abrupt veering of the ship was reported to the Coast Guard.
Some survivors, however, have told the panel that they saw surveillance cameras intact on the third floor, well until about 9:30 a.m.
The panel also raised doubts over how it took more than two months for the Coast Guard to officially acknowledge its retrieval of the recorded footage, given that securing visual material from an accident site is one of the very first steps in evidence collection.
“Based on such circumstances, it’s difficult to give credibility to the Navy’s account of how the footage was retrieved,” the official said.
The 6,800-ton ferry sank in waters off the southern coast on April 16 that year, killing 304 out of 476 passengers in one of South Korea’s worst maritime disasters. Most of the victims were high school students on a school trip.
The panel also noted the Navy officer said to have retrieved the storage device gave a statement that does not match the scene where the device had been installed.
“The chief petty officer who was in charge of collecting the digital storage device has said he moved the body of the device by undoing the screws linking the cable connectors. But when our team examined the site after the Sewol was hoisted, there were no traces of any connectors.”
The sinking of the Sewol sparked intense scrutiny of the lax state rescue system. It later become one of the triggers that led to the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye, whose unaccounted whereabouts at the time of the ship sinking, and mishandling of its aftermath, sparked harsh criticism. (Yonhap)