A little reported footnote (in the English language media, at least) to the Sewol ferry tragedy, which claimed as many as 300 lives, is the origin of the ship.
The Sewol, which sank on the morning of April 16th off of the southwestern coast of Korea, was built by Hayashi Kane Senkyo (林兼船渠), a shipbuilder located in Nagasaki, in 1994. From June of that year until September 2012, Maru A Ferry used the ferry, then called Ferry Nami no Ue to service its Kagoshima - Amami Ōshima - Okinawa route.
During the 18 years that the ship was owned by Maru A, the only trouble she experienced was an oil leak. There were no reports of collisions with reefs or quays.
In October of 2012, the ship was sold off to a Korean shipping company named the Cheonghaejin Marine Company and refurbished.1 Originally, a five-storey ship, the lowest floor was used for cargo, the second floor for cars. It had a capacity of 200 vehicles. The third floor contained restaurants and shops, and passenger rooms were located on the third to fifth floors. Modifications, however, included the addition of extra passenger cabins on the third, fourth and fifth decks, raising the passenger capacity by 156, and increasing the weight of the ship by 239 tons.
It has been argued that the addition of extra passenger cabins on the third, fourth and fifth decks was the main cause behind the accident. The additions caused the center of the ships gravity to shift 51 centimetres (1.67 ft) higher. (To read about other possible causes, go here.)
A crew member, however, has attempted to shift the blame for the accident on to the Japanese shipbuilder, claiming yesterday that the ship hadn't been strong enough to withstand the additions. If such is the case, it begs the question: why did they go ahead with the renovation?
1 According to Maru A Ferry, it is common for passenger ships in Japan to be replaced every fifteen to twenty years, with the older ships being sold mainly to companies in Southeast Asia.