Captain of capsized ferry gets 36 years in prison

November 10, 2014

Sewol ferry captain Lee Joon-seok (3rd from left) sits with crew members at the start of the verdict proceedings in a court room in Gwangju November 11, 2014.(Yonhap)

GWANGJU (Yonhap) — A district court on Tuesday sentenced the captain of the sunken ferry Sewol to 36 years in prison for abandoning passengers at the time of the deadly sinking.

Lee Joon-seok, however, was acquitted of charges that he murdered 304 passengers as he left them behind while he was the first to be rescued when the ill-fated ship was sinking off South Korea’s southern coast on April 16.

Prosecutors had earlier sought the death penalty against the 68-year-old skipper.

In the same ruling, the Gwangju District Court sentenced the ship’s chief engineer, only identified by his surname Park, to 30 years in prison, convicting him of murder.

Prison terms ranging from five years to 20 years were delivered to 13 other crew members, including the first engineer surnamed Sohn, who have been charged with abandonment and violation of a ship safety act.

Prosecutors largely blamed Lee and the 14 crew members, saying that the victims were told to stay put while the captain and crew hurriedly left the sinking ferry.

The ruling came just hours after the government terminated the nearly seven-month search of the sunken vessel, with nine passengers still unaccounted for, citing the collapsing interior and worsening sea conditions.

The 6,825-ton ferry Sewol sank in waters near the southwestern port of Jindo en route to the southern resort island of Jeju. A total of 295 people, mostly teenage students on a field trip, have been confirmed dead, with nine remaining unaccounted for.

One Comment

  1. Kris

    November 11, 2014 at 2:20 AM

    I think they are overreaching with some of the crew that is being punished. For instance the fairly new member who was at the helm. It is not her fault the company changed the structure of the ship which didn’t allow for water balance, or that the company routinely overloaded the cargo area or that the cargo wasn’t secured properly or that the captain ordered the passengers to remain down below. If the student bus driver was at the helm and it was found that the bus was extended improperly and the company set the passenger rate too high and that is the reason they failed to make the turn that lead to an accident should they serve time? The coast guard pulled people from the water, pulled people off the overturned structure with the helicopters and climbed aboard trying to release the boats. If they couldn’t hold onto a railing they couldn’t move about, the incline was too great. Why is this their fault? The company should not have amended the structure to profit. The captain should not have not only called for life jackets but made everyone to come to the open deck. It would be illegal for the crew to disobey the captain. The coast guard got there before it went down. It went down faster that reasonable because of the overloading and change in design. It was impossible to get to anyone not in open air. The incline was too steep. The passengers were not accessible. I can’t imagine a country who would have peope able to enter an not yet stable overturned vessel at that incline to get to people and then be able to get them out. Who is going to risk themselves after this treatment? Two divers died. Is there any care for the rescue and recovery people? Too many people made errors. The company heads for the decision to redesign. The decision to overload. The captain for failing to get everyone to open air. The captain for agreeing to command an overloaded vessel. Everyone besides the captain and company heads should go home. And vessels should be either cargo or passenger and not both. The company was instructing the crew to save the ship too long for the good of the cargo. There should be one focus. It was not the teachers fault. If something happened to the students after they disobeyed crew instructions to stay put they would have had consequences. It’s not a reasonable situation. I wish that teacher hadn’t committed suicide days after. And the blaming the concert tragedy on the welding of the ventilation grate. Like the grate was designed to hold dozens of people? It was for ventilation several feet above surface level.