S Korea ferry captain sentenced to life for murder

An appeals court has sentenced the South Korean captain of the Sewol ferry to life in prison on a murder charge, strengthening an earlier conviction

Updated Jul 28, 2015

The South Korean ferry captain responsible for last year's disaster near Jeju was given an increased sentence of life in prison on Tuesday by an appellate court which convicted him of homicide.

Lee Joon-seok was at the helm when the ferry went down in April 2014, killing more than 300 people, mostly children.

The revised sentence follows an earlier verdict by a district court that sentenced the captain to 36 years in prison for negligence and abandoning passengers in need.

Victims’ relatives criticised that sentence at the time, saying it was too lenient. Prosecutors had demanded the death penalty for Lee.

Lee’s sentence was increased because Gwangju high court convicted him on homicide charges.

The judge in the appeal court said abandoning the Sewol was like a doctor deserting sick and dying people in a hospital. The captain's actions, said the judge, left his charges on his ship in a state of fatal and indescribable suffering.

The court gave 14 other crew members lighter sentences. Both prosecutors and the crew members have one week to appeal the verdicts.

Families of the victims staged a protest outside the court, unhappy that the sentence was not even tougher.

Lee had been captured on video and in photographs leaving the ship while passengers remained trapped inside.

He had apologised for abandoning passengers but argued that he never intended to sacrifice their lives and had said he was "confused" during the incident.

Most of the victims were teenagers traveling to a southern island for a school trip. A total of 295 bodies have been retrieved but nine others are missing.

South Korea announced last week that it would salvage the ship off the country's southwest coast at an estimated cost of $91 million to $137 million. Relatives of the victims hope the salvaging operation will locate the missing and help reveal more details about the sinking.

TRTWorld and agencies