April 24, 2014 12:50 pm

South Korea ferry disaster: Families confront officials, reports say ship was overloaded

Watch above: Relatives of the dead and missing in the South Korean ferry disaster cursed government and police officials, accusing them of failing to save the passengers. Paul Johnson reports.

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TORONTO – A ship with more than 300 people on board might have been carrying more than three times its recommended cargo, according to investigators.

“It seems that all they cared about at Chonghaejin Marine is the volume of the cargo and not the actual weight, because the company charges by volume,” prosecutor Yang Joong Jin said in an interview with Bloomberg.

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“We will announce the cargo weight when it’s confirmed.”

According to radio communication with the Korean Shipping Association, the ferry operator declared it was loaded with 3,608 tons of cargo when it left Incheon port last week.

READ MORE: Divers break down cabin walls to retrieve bodies

An official at Korean Register said on Wednesday that the maximum recommended weight of cargo for the “Sewol” was 987 tons.

Meanwhile, angry relatives of those still missing surrounded senior officials on Thursday and refused to let them leave a meeting until their demands for a speedy recovery of their loved ones’ remains were met.

The families accused the authorities of lying to them about how the operation was progressing and told the officials they didn’t have a grasp of details.

Four crew members accused of abandoning the ship and failing to protect the passengers were arrested, three days after warrants were issued for the captain and two other crew.

The confirmed death toll from the April 16 disaster off South Korea’s southern coast reached more than 170 on Thursday, officials said.  

About 130 people still missing remain somewhere within the sunken ship or the surrounding waters.

WATCH: Angry relatives of those still missing following the disaster surrounded senior officials on Thursday and refused to let them leave a meeting until their demands for a speedy recovery of their loved ones’ remains were met.

Ferry expansion to blame?

Investigators also said that they are probing whether expansion work on the ferry was a factor by making the ship unstable. The Korean Register said that some modifications included adding extra passenger cabins, raising the passenger capacity by more than 150 people, and increasing the weight of the ship by almost 240 tonnes.

READ MORE: Profiles of some of South Korean ferry’s deceased, missing

Frustration simmered on Thursday, the day the families had set as a deadline to find the bodies of those still missing.

Some family members of the more than 100 victims unaccounted for still refuse to give up hope of finding their loved ones alive.

“My child, please come back to my arms,” a mother wrote on a yellow ribbon.

WATCH: Rescue diver attempts to break window on submerged South Korean ferry (April 23)

Official cause of accident still unknown

Four more crew members were arrested, all of them believed to be engineers.

They were brought before the media, where they mumbled apologies for the disaster.

The arrests bring to 20 the total of crew held so far on charges including negligence of duty and failure to protect passengers, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.

Authorities have conducted a number of raids as the investigation into last week’s sinking continues.

On Wednesday, officials seized boxes of material from the offices of the Korea Shipping Association (KSA), the Chonghaejin Marine Company, the operator of the Sewol ferry, and from the residence of Yoo Byung-un, the practical owner of the Sewol.

The coast guard, meanwhile, released sonar pictures of the wreck of the shipwreck showed it lying on its side.

The images were produced by a robotic underwater vehicle, one of a range of hi-tech devices committed to the search operation.

The photos gave no hint of the difficulties facing the diving teams who are working in both daylight and at night time in cold, murky, fast-flowing water.

Once the bodies are all found, the plan is to use giant ship-borne cranes to try to raise the ferry.

School worst affected by ferry sinking re-opens for classes

South Korean students are returning to classes Thursday at the school that many victims attended.

At Danwon High School in Ansan, South Korea, there are yellow ribbons, chrysanthemums and photos of the classmates and teachers who lost their lives.

Danwon High School students hold papers with messages such as “come back,” “miss you,” “love you” and “don’t lose your hope” for their friends who are missing.

AP Photo/Woohae Cho

A nearby museum serves as a temporary memorial to the approximately 250 students dead or missing.

Funerals have already taken place for some who lost their lives on the Sewol ferry, including vice-principle of the Danwon school, Kang Min-gyu, who committed suicide after being rescued.

- with files from The Associated Press

© Shaw Media, 2014

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