Although a week has passed after the Sewol ferry began to sink, it is still unclear what was happening inside the ship at the time of the accident, or when the ferry changed direction suddenly. But messages sent through KakaoTalk by high school students on the ferry are likely to give an important clue that can clarify the case.
Out of 476 ferry passengers, 323 were high school students who most likely used KakaoTalk frequently. Therefore, it is more likely that they described the situation through text messages using the mobile messaging platform before and after the accident.
The police and prosecution are also investigating the captain and 14 other surviving crew members, but their testimonies are different due to the confusing and stressful events. Thus, the analysis of text messages sent via KakaoTalk, which will be used for the first time in disaster investigations, is expected to play a huge role in reconstructing the circumstances of the accident.
According to the prosecution on April 22, the joint investigation team of police and prosecutors obtained more than 300,000 messages received and sent by 476 passengers and crew members from 6:30 pm on April 15 to 18 through its search of Kakao’s headquarters between April 20 to 22.
In fact, a high school student sent a message to family, saying, “The ship has already listed, but I was told to remain where I was.” The message was sent at 9:25 a.m. on April 16, just 30 minutes after ferry requested to be rescued for the first time.
The investigation team believes that it will be possible to reconstruct a timeline of the disaster after analyzing the messages. The team also anticipates that they will be able to figure out if crewmembers’ testimonies are true or inconsistent by comparing their statements with KakaoTalk conversations.
A spokesperson for the prosecution said, “Messages sent via KakaoTalk are a kind of big data,” adding, “I think that after mobile messenger records are organized by time, it will be possible to clarify when passengers started to feel strange inside the ship.”