People attend at a candlelight vigil in Ansan, to commemorate the victims of capsized passenger ship Sewol and to wish for the safe return of missing passengers.
People attend at a candlelight vigil in Ansan, to commemorate the victims of capsized passenger ship Sewol and to wish for the safe return of missing passengers.Reuters

A possible link between the owner of the boat involved in the Sewol ferry disaster and a creepy sect involved in pyramid selling schemes is being investigated by police.

Officers in Seoul have carried out raids on a religious group called the Salvation Sect which is headed up by Yoo Byeong-eon, thought to be the owner of the shipping line.

According to the Korean Herald, many members of the sect work for Chonghaejin Marine, the company which owns the Sewol ferry.

There could even be links to the sect on board the ferry, with the vessel's disgraced captain rumoured to be a member.

The Salvation Sect reportedly helps members get jobs in connected companies while donations made by those members were used by Yoo as collateral for loans.

Local media have speculated that the sect was a financial vehicle for high-ranking members and associated companies. It was reported the sect has 60 branches spread out across South Korea and around 200,000 members across the world. The organisation appears to be mainly non-religious.

Rumours of a pyramid sales scheme operating at the Salvation Sect are now "rife" with another police raid taking place at an associated office.

Suspected member captain Lee Joon-seok has apologised for the disaster which has left 300 people – many of them children - missing or dead. He abandoned ship and was among those rescued early on.

He said: "I am sorry to the people of South Korea for causing a disturbance and I bow my head in apology to the families of the victims. I gave instructions regarding the route, then I briefly went to the bedroom and then it happened."

Two crew members have been arrested for failing in their duty to assist passengers.

Some 325 of the passengers were students from Danwon High School near Seoul, who were on a field trip to the holiday island of Jeju. An enormous group memorial altar has opened near the school.

A wall of white and yellow flowers has been erected in Ansan, the city which is home to Danwon High School. The wall surrounds photos of 47 students and teachers whose bodies have been recovered from the ferry and identified.