South Korean ferry captain jailed for 36 years over negligence
The captain of a South Korean ferry that capsized and killed more than 300 passengers has been sentenced to 36 years in jail for professional negligence.
Lee Joon-seok, who leapt to safety following the tragedy in April, was found guilty of abandonment and violating “seamen’s law” causing death and injury but was found not guilty of murder.
The Sewol ferry was carrying 476 people on board when it sank, most of whom were students attending a field trip. The actions of its captain, who prioritised his own safety over that of his passengers, sparked national outcry when video footage of the crew abandoning ship spread across South Korea.
The ferry’s chief engineer Park Gi-ho was found guilty of murder and sentenced to 30 years. The remaining 13 crew members were sentenced to between five and 20 years.
Today’s sentencing was the culmination of a five-month trial and came on the same day as the South Korean government called off the search for the last remaining nine bodies which have never been found.
Prosecutors had hoped for a sentence of death for Joon-seok, insisting he did not use available rescue equipment or announce instructions to evacuate and save the passengers.
He has apologised for his omissions, claiming he did not act intentionally and did not know his behaviour would kill so many of his passengers. Joon-seok said: “I was stunned by the accident and I lost my ability to make decisions. I swear I never thought passengers should be left dying in order for me to make it to safety first.”
Families of the victims were outraged by the 36-year sentence and gathered outside the court asking for an appeal and calling for the death penalty for all 15 crew members. The prosecution and the defence have seven days to formally ask for an appeal.
The Sewol’s sinking is one of the country’s deadliest disasters in recent decades. Overloaded cargo, poor storage, delayed rescue efforts and a lack of spending on safety, along with the crew members’ behaviour, have been blamed for the huge loss of life.