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Captain of doomed ferry sentenced to life in prison

Contributed by on April 28, 2015 at 2:22 am

A South Korean appeals court on Tuesday found the captain of the Sewol ferry that sank a year ago guilty of murdering the 304 people who died in the disaster and upped his sentence to life imprisonment.

Lee Jun-seok, 69, was originally jailed 36 years for negligence and dereliction of duty on 11 November 2014 after being acquitted of the murder charge that prosecutors sought.

The passenger ship capsized off South Korea’s southwestern island of Jindo on April 16 last year while carrying 476 people, of whom 350 were students from a high school in the city of Ansan, just south of the capital, Seoul.

Lee’s behavior was “homicide by willful negligence, ” the court judged.

Among multiple court cases, the toughest punishment so far has been handed to Lee, but the district court had also found the Sewol’s chief engineer guilty of homicide, sentencing him to 30 years, while 13 other crew members were given sentences of between five and 20 years.

Judges sit to preside over verdicts of the sunken Sewol ferry’s crew members charged with negligence and abandonment of passengers in the disaster at Gwangju High Court on April 28, 2015 ©Ahn Young-Joon (Pool/AFP).

They had argued that he had abandoned his passengers, leading to the deaths of 250 high school students and “inflicted an incurable injury on their parents”, according to Yonhap news agency.

However, the prosecution appealed, saying Lee and the crew had caused the deaths of more than 300 passengers and crew by abandoning the vessel in the knowledge that they could drown.As a result, prosecutors felt Lee and the crew should have been convicted of homicide.

At the original trial, Lee said he had committed a crime for which “I deserve to die”, but strenuously denied he had ever intended to sacrifice the lives of the passengers. Relatives hope it will help answer questions and recover nine bodies that are still missing.

A year after the April 2014 sinking, the South Korean government is still reeling from lingering public criticism of its handling of the incident, the country’s deadliest maritime disaster in decades.

There was violence during a Seoul rally led by relatives and their supporters earlier this month, leaving dozens of people injured.

But there are those who oppose the decision and investing taxpayer money into the endeavor, which is expected to cost $91 million to $137 million and take 12 to 18 months.

Authorities blame excessive cargo, improper storage and negligence for the sinking. Critics say higher-level officials have not been accountable.

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S.Korea court finds ferry captain guilty of homicide for 304 deaths