Sewol Facts

A Resource for Journalists

Key Misconceptions

Common Errors in Coverage of the Sewol, Yoo Byung-eun and the Evangelical Baptist Church

Mistakes have been repeated again and again. This page is a resource to fix them. These facts have been confirmed by reputable journalism organizations or accepted as accurate following negotiations between the Evangelical Baptist Church, its counsel, and the Korean or U.S. media. Supporting links and documents are available upon request. Please contact us at

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The cause of the sinking of the Sewol ferry has never been determined.

Numerous investigations failed to identify the cause of the accident. The most rigorous of these, the so-called “Hull Investigation,” was completed in 2019 after 13 months, and posited two possible scenarios: the sinking could have been caused by problems with the ship — such as a sudden turn, excessive cargo load, or stability or buoyancy issues created by substandard refurbishing – or caused by external factors, such as a collision with a submarine or other unknown objects. The bi-partisan Social Disasters Commission announced in September 2022 that it, too, was unable to determine why the ship sank, finding that an external shock could not be ruled out. The Commission’s report and Sewol-related court cases show that none of the initial claims alleged by the then-Park administration and the prosecution office—overloading, steering error, and the Yoo family’s alleged embezzlement—were found to be the cause of the sinking.

The ferry was not overloaded at the time of the accident.

The Sisa Journal quoted Daehan Ship Design as noting that the long-accepted maximum load of the Sewol, thought to be 987 tons, was in fact inaccurate. Based on the fact that the “full load line” on the hull was not being used to calculate the weight, as it should have been, but rather the “full water line” was, the company concluded in October 2017 that the Sewol actually had a maximum capacity of 2,272 tons of cargo. This meant the ship was not overloaded at the time of the accident.

Yoo Byung-eun and his family did not own or control Chonghaejin Marine, the ferry operating company.

Yoo Byung-eun did not own any shares in Chonghaejin Marine, either directly or indirectly – he had long ago divested all of his business holdings – and he did not play any role in the operation of the company or the Sewol. While his children owned some shares in a holding company that indirectly owned Chonghaejin Marine, they did not own a controlling interest in the holding company (either individually or together) and they did not play any role in the operation of Chonghaejin Marine or the Sewol.

Senior officers of the Sewol were not members of the Evangelical Baptist Church.

Only two Sewol crew members were members of the Chruch, both of whom aided the rescue. The EBC did not own any shares in Chonghaejin Marine.

Yoo Byung-eun was not the founder of the Evangelical Baptist Church, nor was he ever viewed as a prophet.

Yoo Byung-eun did not participate in the official process to register EBC as a church in 1981. Although he was ordained as a pastor in the 1970s, he did not serve as a pastor for EBC. There is no pastor in the EBC: it is a congregation of laymen.

The Evangelical Baptist Church is not a “sect” or a “cult,” and it should not be referred to by the pejorative the “Salvation sect.”

The EBC is a laymen’s church that follows Bible teachings. The EBC has affirmed its belief in the Bible, the Holy Trinity, Jesus’s conception by the Holy Spirit, and Jesus’s birth, death, and resurrection. The EBC does not worship a particular individual as a religious sect leader or preach any doctrine that contradicts the Bible.

Yoo Byung-eun was not connected to the so-called Odaeyang (Five-Oceans) Incident, in which 32 people committed suicide in 1987.

The incident was thoroughly investigated three times—in 1987, 1989, and 1991 – with all three investigations concluding that the EBC and Yoo Byung-eun had no connection to the tragedy. When Mr. Yoo was called in by the prosecutors in 1991 to be questioned about the Odaeyang incident and voluntarily appeared for questioning, he was detained and convicted for something completely unrelated to the Odaeyang incident. He was convicted and imprisoned for four years for allegedly misappropriating EBC funds. He maintained his innocence until his death, and contended that he had been targeted for his refusal to pay bribes to government officials.

Yoo family members are not billionaires.

The Korean media and investigative authorities at the time of the Sewol mischaracterized the wealth of the Yoo family and erroneously deemed properties owned by the EBC or fellow church members as the family’s assets. Subsequent court rulings and the government’s own internal documents show that these assets were indeed owned by the EBC or fellow church members. The government failed in court to provide any proof to support their allegations that the properties were owned by the Yoo family.

Yoo Byung-eun’s death has never been ruled a suicide.

No cause of death has been determined. Yoo Byung-eun was the target of the largest manhunt in South Korean history, and in June 2014 his body was found badly decomposed in a plum orchard in Suncheon, a city south of Seoul. It was identified a month later. Police reports and the autopsy report from 2014 include significant irregularities that cast in doubt South Korea’s official explanation of the circumstances surrounding the body’s discovery and the findings of the official autopsy report. The cause of death was not determined.

No Known Cause

No Known Cause

Despite numerous investigations spanning years, the cause of the Sewol ferry sinking has never been determined. Questions about the government’s

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Primary Resources

A convenient repository of articles, essays, summaries of investigations, and other factual materials related to the sinking of the Sewol

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Abuse of Power

The Park Administration used South Korea’s Defense Security Command (DSC) or military intelligence service to spy, wiretap, surveil, and intimidate

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The Park Administration identified the Yoo Byung-eun family as the main culprit of the Sewol disaster soon after the accident.

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