South Korea ferry disaster: Shouts of 'murderer' in court as Sewol captain and crew go on trial
More than 300 people, most of them children, died in the disaster
Fifteen crew of a South Korean ferry that sank in April killing more than 300 people, most of them children, went on trial on Tuesday on charges ranging from negligence to homicide, with the shout going up of “murderer” as the captain entered the court.
Captain Lee Joon-seok, 68, and three senior crew members were charged with homicide, facing a maximum sentence of death. Two were charged with fleeing and abandoning ship that carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. Nine were charged with negligence, which can also carry jail terms.
Emotions ran high in court as family members appeared to have already convicted the crew who were caught on video abandoning ship, the captain in his underwear, while the children, obeying orders, waited in their cabins for further instructions.
As the defendants were led in, someone in the packed courtroom shouted: “That guy is the captain, isn't he? Murderer!”
One relative held up a sign that read: “You are not human. You are beneath animals.” An altercation broke out between relatives and security guards who tried to take the sign away.
The Sewol, overloaded and travelling too fast on a turn, sank off the southwest coast on April 16 on a routine journey from Incheon on the mainland to the southern holiday island of Jeju.
Of the 476 passengers and crew on board, 339 were children and teachers from the same school on the outskirts of Seoul. Only 172 people were rescued and the remainder are all presumed to have drowned.
Mourning family members packed the court in Gwangju, the closest city to the scene of the disaster, as the 15 were led in and seated on two rows of benches.
The 15 have been in detention since they were charged in May.
A family member spoke on behalf of others at the start of the hearing, imploring the defendants to tell the truth.
“Would you have done the same if these were your children? Please imagine for a moment that they were your children who died and tell the truth.”
The lawyer for the captain, in an opening statement, said his client had no power to stop the ferry company's practice of overloading the vessel with cargo.
Family members of passengers aboard the sunken ferry Sewol struggle with a security officer, right, while attempting to attend a pretrial hearing of the ferry's crew (AP)
The lawyer, Lee Kwang-jae, also said the captain had not meant to cause the accident, and there were therefore no grounds for the homicide charge.
“It wasn't like he had a grudge against the children so it's difficult to accept the prosecution's argument that he wilfully neglected the duty of rescue and escaped to save himself,” Lee told the court.
The sound of sobbing was heard throughout the courtroom as the state presented its case and the head prosecutor's voice broke when he recounted the last moments of some of the children.
One child was caught on video, recovered later, staring death in the face, the prosecutor said.
“I'm not a criminal, I don't know why this is happening,” the child was quoted as saying. “I haven't done anything that bad.”
A Gwangju judge who handles media affairs, Hahn Jee-hyung, said the defendants were unlikely to get a concerted defence in the highly publicised case.
“They were appointed by the court, so we hope there is no criticism of them,” Hahn told reporters before the hearing.
Coast Guard officers conduct a last-minute rescue operation around the passenger ferry Sewol sinking in waters off the southwestern coast of South Korea A panel of three judges presided over the first day of the trial, as the state called for justice to be served and the seven defence lawyers presented their case.
South Korea has in recent years revised its criminal law to allow defendants to opt for jury trials, but none of the 15 crew members requested it.
The captain and one senior crew member had written to the court pleading leniency, court documents show, but details were not available.
The court suspended the hearing late in the day to anger of family members who wanted the proceedings to continue. The judges set the next court appearance for next Tuesday, seen as expediting the case when criminal trials normally sit every two weeks.
Authorities are still searching for Yoo Byung-un, head of the family that owned the operator of the doomed ferry, on charges of embezzlement seen as a key factor that led to compromised safety management.
Police have arrested executives of the ferry operator and subsidiaries of the investment firm held by Yoo's family but they have yet to be brought to trial. The coastguard, which is set to be broken up, is also facing investigation for suspected negligence in the course of the rescue operation.
Relatives of a passenger on board the capsized South Korean ferry Sewol weep President Park Geun-hye nominated a former journalist as her choice to be the new prime minister to replace the incumbent who resigned over the government's slow and ineffective response to the disaster.
Moon Chang-geuk was expected to take charge of overhauling bureaucracy and reforming safety standards as pledged by Park.
A lawyer appearing for the one of the crew in hearings held earlier behind closed doors confessed to being torn between professional obligation and the resignation that lawyers could not make any difference amid a nationwide witch hunt.
“It is a burden for every lawyer, because the crime is something that can hardly be forgiven,” he said in the small coastal town of Mokpo last month.
“It's not just that one person died. There were hundreds. All I could say to the judges is 'we will await your wise decision'. That was it.”
- 1 Florida man sentenced to two-and-a-half years for having sex on the beach in front of a child
- 2 Autistic teenager beaten up by bullies makes them watch 20-minute video about autism
- 4 World learns of app that shows you who unfriended you on Facebook, app promptly crashes
- 5 Chris Moyles reportedly set to make radio comeback with new breakfast show on XFM
Florida man sentenced to two-and-a-half years for having sex on the beach in front of a child
Autistic teenager beaten up by bullies makes them watch 20-minute video about autism
Man who was struck and killed by lightning in Brecon Beacons 'was carrying a selfie stick'
Greece debt crisis as it happened: EU chiefs at loggerheads hours before Alexis Tsipras’s last ditch deal proposals
Bakery sends 'horrific' version of Frozen-themed birthday cake to unsuspecting customer
More Britons believe that multiculturalism makes the country worse - not better, says poll
Osborne to cap family benefits at £23,000 – announced ahead of his post-election Budget
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
Sickness and disability benefits could be reduced by £30 a week as part of £12bn welfare cuts
Greece debt crisis: Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande issue Athens with 24-hour ultimatum to avoid crashing out of the euro
Greece crisis: Referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its lack of genuine legitimacy
£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...
£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...
£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...
£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...