MOKPO, South Korea (AP) — A maritime professor who spoke with the third mate who was steering the South Korean ferry before it sank said Wednesday that he suspects there was a problem with the steering gear.
Professor Kim Woo-Sook of Mokpo National Maritime University is a former teacher of the third mate, Park Han-gyeol. She was arrested Saturday in connection with the accident, which left 302 people dead or missing.
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.
Prosecutors have said they are trying to determine the disaster's cause by examining the turn and other factors, including wind, currents, freight and modifications made to the ship.
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.
Senior prosecutor Ahn Sang-don said Monday the third mate has told investigators why she made the turn, but he would not reveal her answer, and said more investigation is needed to determine whether the answer is accurate.
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