The captain of the South Korean ferry Sewol that sank in April has been sentenced to 36 years in prison for not doing enough to save passengers in the country’s worst maritime disaster in more than four decades.Captain Lee Joon Seok, 69, was found guilty of professional negligence and Judge Lim Joung Youb said he could have saved many more lives had he tried to evacuate the passengers before abandoning ship. Prosecutors had demanded the death penalty for Lee, saying he deliberately avoided issuing an evacuation order because he was worried the passengers would hamper his escape. Lee earlier denied the homicide charge, which was also rejected by the court. It wasn’t immediately clear whether he would appeal the verdict.
Earlier, the general secretary of maritime professionals’ union Nautilus, Mark Dickinson, said he was deeply disturbed to hear of the drastic sentences being sought by prosecutors. ‘From the outset, there has been a concerted drive to criminalise the captain and crew in this incident,’ he said, ‘and these extreme penalties take the practice of scapegoating seafarers to an unprecedented level.
‘It has become clear since the tragic loss of the Sewol that, as with many other maritime disasters, the causes are complex and it is totally unjust to single out seafarers for such treatment. ‘Issues including training, experience, safety management, ship design and construction, and the effectiveness of the regulatory regime are all critical factors in this disaster,’ he pointed out.
The ship’s chief engineer was found guilty of homicide for not aiding two injured fellow crew members and was sentenced to 30 years in prison. The court found all the remaining 13 surviving crew members guilty of various charges, including negligence, and handed down prison terms ranging from five to 20 years. Most of the victims were high school students on a class trip and only 172 of the 476 people on board survived the April 16 sinking.