South Korea ferry disaster: Captain 'should be given death penalty'

South Korean prosecutors have asked for the death penalty for Captain Lee Joon-seok

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Prosecutors in South Korea are demanding the death penalty for the captain of the Sewol ferry that sank in April, with the loss of more than 300 lives.

Captain Lee Joon-seok, 68, has been charged with “homicide through wilful negligence”, while three of his senior officers face life sentences.

It is alleged that the key crew members were negligent in their actions and did not protect passengers when the ferry was sinking on 16 April this year.

Passengers were initially instructed to remain in their cabins when the ship ran into difficulty, but the four officers were among the first to abandon the vessel.

Students on the Sewol, speaking after being rescued, condemned the efforts of the coastguard. One said: “They were outside. They pulled us [onto boats] but they didn't come inside to help. We said to ourselves: ‘Why aren't they coming in?’.”

Another said that it seemed as if there were a greater number of fishermen involved in the rescue than coastguard personnel.

The sinking of the Sewol, which was on a routine voyage, was the deadliest maritime disaster in South Korea for 44 years. It was carrying 476 passengers at the time, most of whom were secondary school students.


An outpouring of grief across the nation followed the tragedy. Criticism was quickly levelled against the government’s handling of the rescue operation and public anger towards the crew has been particularly harsh.

The direct cause of the ship’s sinking is unclear, but it is thought that a sudden turn is to blame. Overloading of the vessel was also suggested as a potential cause, by the off-duty captain.

Additional Reporting AP