Surveillance footage retrieved by the Navy and Coast Guard from the ferry Sewol, which sank in 2014 and claimed more than 300 lives, could have been doctored, an independent panel looking into the Sewol ferry disaster said Thursday.
The Special Commission on Social Disaster Investigation said that footage of the Sewol that prosecutors had secured and that which the Navy claimed it had retrieved may be different, announcing the interim result of their findings.
“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 said at a press briefing.
According to allegations raised by the panel, the Navy might have secured the footage earlier than June 22, 2014, when the Navy said it had collected the surveillance cameras from the ferry. It might have checked the content in advance, edited it and staged the scene of collecting the cameras in front of the media, the panel said.
“We need to further investigate whether the Navy edited the data and why if (it is true that) the Navy collected it in advance,” he said.
The footage submitted to the prosecution only had recordings time-stamped until 8:46 a.m., three minutes before the capsizing of the ship was reported to the Coast Guard. But the surveillance cameras were in operation on the third floor until about 9:30 a.m., the panel said, citing survivors.
The panel also raised doubts as to why it took more than two months for the Coast Guard to retrieve the recorded footage — a key piece of evidence in determining the cause of the incident.
If the footage was restored and analyzed promptly following the incident, the causes of the sinking of the ill-fated ship could have been more easily and correctly identified and the rescue operation could have been more successful, according to the panel.
The 6,800-ton ferry capsized and sank in waters off the southern coast on April 16, 2014, killing 304 people, mostly high school students on a field trip. The government’s botched rescue operation drew strong criticism and exact causes of the nation’s worse maritime disaster still remain unclear.