S. Korea ferry disaster: Death penalty sought for Sewol captain

S. Korea ferry disaster: Death penalty sought for Sewol captain
Lee Joon-seok, captain of the sunken ferry Sewol, arriving at a court in Gwangju on June 10, 2014.

KOREA - The prosecution on Monday asked the Gwangju District Court to hand down a capital punishment sentence for sunken Sewol ferry captain Lee Joon-seok on charges of homicide through willful negligence.

The 69-year-old Lee has been suspected of escaping from the sinking vessel without taking appropriate measures to evacuate the students and other passengers in waters off Jindo Island, South Jeolla Province, on April 16.

The prosecution also called for life imprisonment for three other key crew members - the chief mate, second mate and chief engineer - all of whom were also charged with homicide out of willful negligence and violation of the rescue rule.

In addition, for 11 other crew members including one woman, the investigative agency sought prison terms of 15-30 years.

"Captain (Lee) violated the Seafarers Law, which bans a captain from leaving the vessel before all passengers evacuate," said prosecution. Lee was also hit with several charges including attempted manslaughter and professional negligence.

Prosecutors denounced Lee and the 14 other crew members for abandoning the vessel without any attempt to evacuate passengers and that their behaviour caused the deaths of those on board. Their practice following the accident left more than 300 people dead or missing.

During the court trials over the past few months, the prosecution also cited the testimony of some survivors, who had said that the sailors had told the passengers to stay inside the cabins while they were preparing for the evacuation.

The crew members were the first to be saved by maritime police 40 minutes after the accident.

Meanwhile, some crew members of the ill-fated Sewol reportedly admitted in a court hearing that they abandoned passengers and escaped the vessel.

A sailor allegedly attempted to kill himself during prosecutors' investigation.

If the crewmen had taken steps to evacuate the passengers, they may have been able to save all of them or at least minimized the death toll, a prosecutor said during the former trial hearing.

He said that "students (on a school excursion) in cabins on the fourth floor could have escaped just by walking several meters. But they became trapped due to an announcement by senior crewmen to stay in their cabins."

Between May and October, the prosecution submitted a variety of evidence, including video clips from the accident and the communication records between the ferry and the state-run Vessel Traffic Services Center, throughout the trial.

Meanwhile, investigators are scrutinizing the allegation that some Coast Guard officials at the vessel traffic service on Jindo Island neglected their duties when the sinking occurred.

kys@heraldcorp.com

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