SEOUL - The South Korean ferry that sank in April with the loss of more than 300 lives should never have been in service and only luck prevented it capsizing earlier, a prosecution expert told a court Tuesday.
Huh Yong-Bum, head of a team of experts on a joint prosecution-police team investigating the sinking of the 6,825-tonne Sewol ferry, was testifying at the ongoing murder trial of the vessel's captain and crew.
"It was just sheer luck that the Sewol operated as it did for more than a year," Huh was quoted as saying by Yonhap news agency.
Investigations have shown that the Sewol was overloaded with cargo at the time of the disaster and not carrying enough ballast to balance the vessel correctly.
A redesign in 2012 had already left the ferry top heavy.
Huh said use of the ship's rudder was extremely constrained, as the unstable vessel was unable to sharply change direction.
"This is why the captain told the crew not to move the rudder by more than five degrees", he said.
Captain Lee Joon-Seok and three senior crew members are accused of "homicide through wilful negligence" - a charge that can carry the death penalty.
Eleven other crew are being tried on lesser violations of maritime law.
As well as abandoning the ferry while hundreds were still trapped inside, the crew were accused of ordering passengers to remain where they were when the ship began listing.
The captain has insisted that the ferry owners are the real culprits and that it was their decision to habitually overload the vessel.