South Korea ferry disaster: Surviving passengers of Sewol tragedy give evidence in court

Trial of the captain and 14 crew members gets underway, with counts ranging from homicide to negligence and abandoning ship

Surviving passengers of a South Korean ferry which sunk in April, killing 304 people, are due to give evidence in the trial of its captain and 14 crew members.

Students from the Danwon High School in Ansan, 18 miles south of Seoul, will testify with other passengers in a smaller court nearer to their home, rather than the one where the defendants are being seen in Gwangju, in the south of the country.

The Sewol ferry set sail on 16 April with 476 passengers and crew on board – more than 300 of which were schoolchildren.

They were enroute from the mainland to the island resort of Jeju as part of a school trip, when nearing the end of the journey, the vessel, which was overloaded, also made a sharp turn to the right causing it to capsize.

Captain Lee Joon-seok, 68, was caught on rescue footage being one of the first to leave the ship, while many passengers, obeying orders, remained in the cabins. It is thought a delayed evacuation order from the captain did not get through to all remaining on board.

The captain and three officers are charged with “homicide through wilful negligence,” a charge that comes with the death penalty if found guilty, while the others face negligence and abandoning ship counts which come with hefty prison sentences.

“The examination of witnesses will be held at the Ansan branch since the students are minors, most of them live in Ansan, and that it is difficult for them to be on a long-distance trip due to the side effects of the accident,” Judge Yim Jeong-yeob said in his ruling, the Korea Herald reported.

The trial began on 10 June with shouts of “murderer” as the captain entered the court.

Divers still scouring the site today found the body of a woman – the first to be recovered in 16 days, bringing the total still missing to 11.

The commencement of the trial also comes as officials attempt to trace a fugitive whose sons ran the shipping company that owned Sewol.

A mourner at a memorial for the deceased Businessman Yoo Byung-un, 73, is wanted on charges of embezzlement, negligence and tax evasion relating to an investment vehicle that ran Chonghaejin Marine.

He has evaded police for over a month but at the weekend, police closed in on his wife, Kwon Yoon-ja, 72, arresting her on suspicion of embezzlement.

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