The Captain of the Sewol, 68 year old Lee Joon-Seok, has been handed a 36 year jail term for gross negligence by the Gwangju District Court. He was found not guilty, however, on the charge of negligent homicide. Prosecutors had demanded the death penalty for Mr Joon-Seok and life sentences for three other crew members. The Sewol was a South Korean ferry skippered by Mr Joon-Seok and sank last April with the loss of more than 300 people. Only 172 of the ferry’s 476 passengers and crew were rescued. Of the 304 confirmed dead, or still listed as missing, 250 were school children.
In addition to the sentence passed on Mr Joon-Seok, the Sewol’s chief engineer was given 30 years in prison while 13 other crew members received up to 20 years in jail each.
The sinking of the Sewol was South Korea’s worst peacetime disaster in 20 years. During the trial it became clear that the Captain and his crew were among the first to abandon ship.
The Sewol capsized on April 16 during one of its regular crossings to the island of Jeju.
Mr Joon-Seok apologised for his actions saying that he was “confused” at the time of the accident. He also claimed that he had issued an evacuation order for the passengers but they remained on board the sticken ship.
South Korean prosecutors have said that they will appeal against the sentences handed down to the captain. Prosecutors were disappointed at the not guilty verdict against three senior officers, including Mr Joon-seok, on homicide charges, Reuters reported.
A separate trial is underway for the employees and owners of Chonghaejin Marine Co., the firm that was responsible for operating the Sewol as a ferry.