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Call it out, the ship is sinking!

By Stuart Ballantyne - posted Friday, 16 June 2023

The Korean Ferry Sewol, at 20 years old, had already been on the Incheon to Jeju run for just over one year. At 19 years old, she had been modified by the addition of superstructure, diminishing her survivability index and stability margins but still within legal limits.

The survivability index of a ship is the chances of surviving a disaster scenario

At 8.48 on the morning of April 16, 2014, the Sewol, travelling at 18 knots in benign conditions, took a hard to starboard turn, causing the vessel to heel over to port. The unlashed trucks in the vehicle deck shifted to port and the vessel's list became dangerous. A disaster scenario was upon them, and within 15 minutes had gone beyond rectification.


Had the inexperienced Third Officer, Park Han-kyul, the officer of the watch, put the helm over to avoid one of the 36 whales species in the area?. Or was there a technical glitch in the steering ? This was never determined but she was in tears by the time Captain Lee Joon-Seok came on the bridge a few minutes later. At this stage the ship was listing 30 degrees with water pouring into the vehicle side deck door and stern door.

The idiotic Captain Lee, using the ship's broadcasting system at 8.52 gave the instruction for everyone to stay where they were and continued the same message even when the water was rushing into the passenger accommodation. Standard procedure on all passenger ships globally where danger is emerging is to get everyone to muster stations..

The first call for help was made by the ship at 8.55, just seven minutes after the helm hard-over incident .

At 9.07, the vessel confirmed it was capsizing and again requested help

At 9.18, the vessel confirmed an angle of 50 degrees and unable to launch lifeboats

During this time Captain Lee continued instruction for passengers to stay put. At 9.23, the ship broadcasting system failed


y 9.48, the first rescue boat left the scene with Captain Lee on board. There had never been an "abandon ship" message. Below decks, the hundreds of students from the Danwon High School stayed put as instructed, enjoying the changing ship angle, happily videoing each other, until the horror of the water cascaded in and drowned most of them. Iphones recovered from the wreck verified this appalling disaster.

The cause of the sinking was still undetermined by December 2022 , but the summary was the collective incompetence of the officer of the watch and the Captain; and the extremely rapid speed of the capsize and the sinking.

So as an e- seafarer and ship designer, my ears pricked up when I heard a very good friend of mine in the US commenting that it was disappointing watching Australia sinking, but it's true.

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About the Author

Stuart Ballantyne is just a sailor who runs Seat Transport Solutions who are naval architects, consultants, surveyors and project managers.

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