Monday, August 21, 2017
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(CNN) — The South Korean ferry that sank dramatically on Wednesday with hundreds of passengers on board had been modified after coming to the country from Japan over a year ago, according to reports on CNN affiliate YTN.

The Sewol — operated by Chonghaejin Marine Corporation — regularly plied the Incheon to Jeju route, a journey that usually takes 13-and-a-half hours, according to information from the company’swebsite.

Jeju is a popular destination in South Korea — known as the “Hawaii of South Korea.”

The Sewol is listed at 146 meters long and with a gross tonnage of almost 7,000 tons. It boasts five cargo and accommodation decks.

It is listed as having a capacity of 921 passengers, but was only carrying a reported 429 when it unexpectedly started taking on water early on Wednesday. Within hours, all that was above the water surface was the bow of the boat.

The ferry was built in a Japanese shipyard 20 years ago and previously operated in that country’s waters. It was refitted upon arrival in South Korea in February 2013, Korea Diving Industry Institute president Jung Yong-hyun told YTN.

The ship’s sleeping cabins were reconstructed after its arrival in South Korea. This may have affected the weight of the boat and could be a reason for the accident, Jung said.

According to the expert, the reconstruction added around 239 tons of weight to the boat from its original form.

Investigators probing the incident will likely look at various aspects of the boat, including this reconstruction.

“As the center of the weight of the boat becomes higher, it becomes more difficult for the boat to balance,” Jung told YTN.

There have been serious ferry accidents in South Korea before. The most recent maritime accident occurred in 1993. This was attributed to overcrowding.

The Sewol, however, was nowhere near capacity on the night of the 15th, when it left Incheon several hours late — delayed because of heavy fog.

Tough conditions

With difficult circumstances hampering rescue dives — including tidal currents, choppy, frigid conditions, wind, rain and seabound fog — more radical engineering solutions are being explored.

At around noon on Thursday local time, workers began trying topump air into the boat, hoping air pockets might be expanded within the structure, helping to lift the ferry.

These efforts have proved unsuccessful so far. Authorities say that they will try again when the tide turns.

Can they survive in air pockets?

Analyst Jung Yong-hyun told YTN this method has been used previously, on the Costa Concordia and Cheonhanham warship wrecks, as example.

Three 3,600-ton “sea cranes” are due to arrive Friday to assist with efforts.

“The cranes are being moved as fast as possible, the focus is getting them there early,” said Choi Myeong-beom, a Ministries of Oceans and Fisheries representative.

“What will be done with them will be determined by the Coast Guard on site.

“If the boat has not been stuck into the seabed then we will raise (it to) the surface with cranes and move them to a place where it will be easier to work on them.”

READ: South Korean shipwreck survivors: Passengers told ‘don’t move’ as ship sank

READ: Theories on how a South Korean passenger ferry suddenly sank

READ: Jeju Island: South Korea’s volcanic holiday destination

(CNN) — North and South Korean artillery batteries exchanged hundreds of shells across their western sea border Monday, a day after North Korea warned it was preparing to test another nuclear device.

About 100 of the 500 shells North Korea fired into the Yellow Sea strayed across the line separating the two rivals’ territorial waters, the semiofficial South Korean news agency Yonhap reported. Yonhap quoted the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff as saying the South responded by firing about 300 shells into North Korean waters and dispatching fighter jets to the boundary, known as the Northern Limit Line.

North Korean offshore firing appeared to have resumed after a lull, Yonhap reported, citing a resident of Baekryong Island, which is close to the Northern Limit Line.

“Some (North Korean) artillery fire landed in (the) southern part of Northern Limit Line but in the water,” a South Korean Ministry of Defense spokesman said. “We counter-fired over the Northern Limit Line.”

When asked what South Korea fired back at, the defense spokesman said, “We are not shooting at North Korea, just shooting into the sea.”

The United States, South Korea’s leading ally, condemned the North Korean shelling from the White House and the Pentagon.

Washington is working “in close coordination” with South Korea and Japan, White House spokesman Jay Carney said, calling on North Korea “to refrain from actions that threaten regional peace and security.”

And Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters at the Pentagon, “The provocation that the North Koreans have, once again, engaged in is dangerous, and it needs to stop.”

China, the North’s main patron, also expressed concern.

“The temperature is rising at present on the Korean Peninsula, and this worries us,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters in Beijing. “We hope that all sides can remain calm and exercise restraint.”

Warning fax

The normally reclusive North took the unusual step of informing its neighbor of live-fire drills close in the heavily militarized western sea. Pyongyang sent a fax early Monday demanding that the South “control” its vessels in seven areas of the waterway near the Northern Limit Line.

According to Wee Yong-Sub, a vice spokesman for the South Korean Defense Ministry, the scheduled tests mark the first time — in recent history, at least — that the North has announced live-firing exercises above the maritime border.

“We consider such announcement as a hostile threat and so have activated crisis management operation in case of (military) provocation,” he said. “We stress that we are fully prepared for all situations.”

Victor Cha, a leading Korea analyst, told CNN that the North may be “posturing” for attention in hopes bringing Washington back to talks over its nuclear program — or moving while the United States distracted by other global events.

“They could be learning from Crimea that while the United States is distracted, the North Koreans can try to change the playing field and maybe slant it in their direction by pushing it back to talks while the United States is focused on other issues,” Cha said.

The two Koreans never signed a peace agreement after the 1950-53 war that also pitted the United States and China against each other. Cha called it a “clearly a good thing” that Pyongyang notified the South of its military exercise. But if Northern gunners ended up killing someone across the border, “then we’re in a pretty bad situation.”

“They are on a hair trigger, and because of the array of forces on the peninsula, you can get an action-reaction dynamic that escalates fairly quickly,” he said. “That’s something we want to avoid, of course.”

Nuclear tests

North Korea said Sunday that it “would not rule out” a new nuclear test as it defended its recent mid-range missile launch that triggered international condemnation.

“(We) would not rule out a new form of a nuclear test aimed at strengthening our nuclear deterrence,” Pyongyang’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by the state-run KCNA news agency. “The U.S. had better ponder over this and stop acting rashly.”

The statement did not specify what North Korea meant by a “new form” of test, and Wee said there are no immediate signs of nuclear tests being carried out by the North.

Last week, Pyongyang launched two medium-range ballistic missiles into the sea off its east coast, violating United Nations resolutions that prohibit Pyongyang from conducting such tests. The Security Council condemned the move and is considering an “appropriate response,” said Luxembourg Ambassador Sylvie Lucas, the council’s current president.

The military exercises are the latest provocation by the North and come after a maritime dispute last week was seemingly swiftly resolved. On Thursday, a North Korean fishing boat was seized after an alleged incursion into South Korean waters and returned with its three crew members the following day.

And while North Korea often upsets its neighbors by firing various rockets and missiles into the waters surrounding the Korean Peninsula, the country has at times engaged in more deadly military actions.

A multinational 2010 report indicated that the sinking of the South Korean navy warship Cheonan, which killed 46 sailors in the Yellow Sea, was the result of a a North Korean torpedo. Later that year, North Korean artillery attacks on Yeonpyeong Island in the Yellow Sea killed two South Korean marines in what Yonhap called “the first direct artillery attack on South Korean territory since the Korean War ended in an armistice” in 1953.

North and South Korea have exchanged fire into the sea across the disputed western sea border, South Korea says.

Smoke billows up from Yeonpyeong island near the border against North Korea, in South Korea on 23 Nov 2010

North Korea announced early on Monday that it would hold live-fire drills in seven parts of the border area.

South Korea says it returned fire after North Korean shells landed in its territorial waters.

The area has been a flashpoint between the two Koreas. The UN drew the western border after the Korean War, but North Korea has never recognised it.

In late 2010, four South Koreans were killed on a border island by North Korean artillery fire. Border fire was also briefly exchanged in August 2011.

‘Responded with fire’

The live-fire exercises were announced by North Korea in a faxed message from its military to the South’s navy.

Map

South Korea warned of immediate retaliation if any shells crossed the border.

“Some of [North Korea’s] shells landed south of the border during the drill. So our military fired back north of the border in line with ordinary protocol,” a defence ministry statement said.

South Korea said the two sides exchanged hundreds of shells.

“The North fired some 500 shots… and some 100 of them landed in waters south of the border,” said Defence Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok.

The South fired more than 300 rounds in return, he said.

Residents of a border island, Baengnyeong, were evacuated into shelters during the three-hour incident.

Map showing Yeonpyeong and the disputed border between North and South Korea

In November 2010, North Korea fired shells at the border island of Yeonpyeong, killing two marines and two civilians.

It said it was responding to South Korean military exercises in the area.

Earlier that year, a South Korean warship sank near Baengnyeong island with the loss of 46 lives.

Seoul says Pyongyang torpedoed the vessel but North Korea denies any role in the incident.

‘New form’ test

China – North Korea’s biggest trading partner – called for calm and restraint after the exchange of fire.

It came days after North Korea test-fired two medium-range Nodong missiles over the sea, its first such launch since 2009.

Late last week, the UN Security Council condemned the launch and said it was considering an “appropriate response”.

That launch followed a series of short-range missile tests, seen as a response to the current US-South Korea annual military exercises.

Over the weekend, North Korea also threatened to conduct a “new form” of nuclear test.

It has conducted three nuclear tests to date, the most recent in February 2013.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry said on Monday that there was no sign a North Korean nuclear test was imminent.

(CNN) — Police have arrested two people in connection with a cyber-attack that yielded personal details for 12 million customers of one of South Korea’s biggest phone companies.

One of the suspects, identified only by the surname Kim, used his own customized hacking program to break into the computer system used by KT Corp, Incheon Metropolitan Police Agency Commissioner Lee Sang-Won said in a statement obtained by CNN Thursday.

Kim, whom police said was 29 year old, accessed bank details, home addresses and employment information for three-quarters of KT’s 16 million registered users. This data was sold on to a 37-year-old man identified only as Park. The owner of a telemarketing business, Park used this information to sell cell phones posing as a KT representative, police said.

The two made 11.5 billion won (US$10.8 million) from the scheme, which dated back to February 2013, police added.

A third person initially implicated in the case was released.

The investigation is now expanding to other hacking activities and other cell phone sales stores.

KT said in a statement that it would actively cooperate with the police investigation to “minimize the damage to its customers,” and “figure out the route of information leakage.”

Credit card scam

In January this year, the personal data for 20 million South Korean credit card customers was stolen by a worker at the Korea Credit Bureau — a company that offers risk management and fraud detection services.

The worker, who had access to various databases at the firm, is alleged to have secretly copied data onto an external drive over the course of a year and a half.

Clients of three Korean companies — KB Kookmin Bank, Lotte Card and Nonghyup Bank — were hardest hit by the data theft.

Following this leak, financial regulators have been working to revise legislation to beef up the protection of personal information, the Yonhap news agency reported.

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