M/V Sewol was a ferry that was built by the Japanese company Hayashikane Shipbuilding & Engineering Co. Ltd in 1994. She could carry 921 passengers, or a total of 956 persons, including the crew. She had a legal capacity for 180 vehicles and 154 regular cargo containers. The maximum speed of the ship was 22 knots.
The Sewol was originally known as the Ferry Naminoue between 1994 and 2012, and had been operated in Japan for almost 18 years without any accidents. In 2012, the ship was later bought for ₩11.6 billion (US$11.3 million) by Chonghaejin Marine Company, renamed Sewol, and refurbished. Modifications included adding extra passenger cabins on the third, fourth, and fifth decks, raising the passenger capacity by 117, and increasing the weight of the ship by 239 tons.
After regulatory and safety checks by the Korean Register of Shipping, the ship began her operation in South Korea on 15 March 2013. The ship made three round-trips every week from Incheon to Jeju. In February 2014 it was reported that Sewol again passed a vessel safety inspection by the South Korean Coast Guard following an intermediate survey to ensure the ship remained in a general condition which satisfied requirements set by the Korean Register of Shipping.
On 16 April 2014 Sewol capsized and sank 1.5 kilometres off Donggeochado, Jindo County, South Jeolla Province on a voyage from Incheon to Jeju. At least 295 of those on board died.
The South Korea government’s Board of Audit and Inspection revealed that the Korean Register’s licensing was based on falsified documents. After the incident, the company reported that the ship was carrying 124 cars, 56 trucks, and 1157 tons of cargo. The amount of cargo carried was twice the legal limit.
On 12 February 2015, Kim Kyung-il, the coastguard captain, was sentenced to four years in prison.