Tuesday, 11 November 2014

South Korea Ferry Captain Sentenced to 36 Years Over Sinking.......

GWANGJU, South Korea — The captain of the South Korean ferry that sank in April, killing more than 300 people, was sentenced on Tuesday to 36 years in prison for deserting his ship and its passengers in a fatal crisis. But he was acquitted of murder, infuriating family members of some of the victims in the country’s worst disaster in decades.

knowing that they were waiting for instructions from the crew and that if they were not evacuated, their lives would be at risk,” the presiding judge, Lim Joung-youb, said in his ruling, which ended the five-month trial of Mr. Lee and 14 other crew members from the ferry Sewol.
Prosecutors had charged Mr. Lee with murder through willful negligence and asked for the death penalty, but the judge said they had failed to prove that charge. Instead, he convicted the captain of failing to take the steps required to save passengers in an emergency. Thirty-six years is the maximum sentence the law allows for that charge.
One senior crew member, however, was convicted of murder: Park Gio-ho, the chief engineer, who was sentenced to 30 years in prison. The judge said Mr. Park was guilty of willful negligence for abandoning two seriously injured cooks who he could have saved.
The captain’s acquittal on the most serious charge outraged some victims’ relatives in the courtroom Tuesday. “You call that law? That’s nonsense,” several shouted.
“Why don’t you just free them so we can punish them ourselves?” an angry father yelled at the judge.
In a joint statement, some of the victims’ families said a death sentence would have shown “that one cannot keep his own life if he betrays his duty to protect other lives and sacrifices hundreds of people in order to save his own.”
“We cannot but ask who the law is for,” the statement said.
The sinking of the Sewol was a national trauma, and the trial may have been the most emotionally fraught legal case South Korea has ever seen. Most of the 304 people who died in the disaster were students from a single high school, on a class trip. When the 6,825-ton ferry sank off the country’s southwestern coast of South Korea on April 16, the ship was carrying twice as much cargo as legally allowed, and much of it was poorly secured.
Most of the victims died after the crew repeatedly urged them to stay inside the vessel. All the ship’s 15 navigational crew members, including the captain, shipmates and engineers, fled on the first coast guard rescue boats that arrived at the scene.
Two other senior crew members — the first mate, Kang Won-sik, and the second mate, Kim Young-ho — were sentenced on Tuesday to 20 and 15 years in prison, respectively. Eleven crew members of lower rank received sentences of five to 10 years for shirking their duty to help passengers.
The crew members sat in silence during the judge’s 90-minute reading of his verdict, some with their eyes closed and others looking at the floor.
In charging Mr. Lee and other senior crew members with murder through willful negligence, prosecutors had argued that they had failed to trigger an evacuation alarm or take other steps that could have saved lives. But the judge accepted Mr. Lee’s argument that before fleeing, he had given an order to evacuate, though that order never reached passengers in their cabins. The judge also said the fact that some crew members had asked coast guard dispatchers for help weakened the claim of willful negligence.
Historically, murder through willful negligence has been a difficult charge to prove in South Korea. No crew member has ever been convicted of it in connection with a ship disaster. The death sentence itself is also relatively rare in South Korea; it was last given to a serial killer in 2009.
During the trial, Mr. Lee and the senior crew all tearfully apologized for their poor seamanship but insisted that they had never intended to commit murder. Their lawyers argued that prosecutors were making scapegoats of the crew, who have been vilified in South Korea almost since the moment of the disaster. President Park Geun-hye compared them to murderers long before the trial began in June. No lawyers came forward to defend the crew members, and all but one had court-appointed attorneys.
In his ruling, Mr. Lim said that the crew members “should not be wholly blamed” for the disaster. He said others were responsible, including a ferry company that spent little on safety training for the crew and dismissed complaints that the ship was often overloaded to the point of instability; regulators who colluded with the company to turn a blind eye to such problems; and the coast guard, which bungled the early rescue effort.
Investigators said the ferry had reduced the amount of ballast water it carried for stability so that it could accommodate excess cargo. The ship was so unstable that prosecutors said it had been like “a roly-poly toy upside down, about to turn over any time.”
That happened on April 16, as the ship was making a sharper turn than usual in waters known for unpredictable currents. The overloaded, top-heavy ship lost its balance, tilting to the left. It tilted further when the poorly secured cargo, including 185 cars — twice as many as was allowed — came loose.
In a separate trial, prosecutors were seeking four to 15 years in prison for 11 ferry and cargo company officials and port inspectors on embezzlement or accidental homicide charges stemming from the disaster.
Last week, Yoo Dae-kyoon, the eldest son of the business mogul who controlled the company that ran the Sewol, was convicted of embezzlementand sentenced to three years in prison. The authorities accused members of the Yoo family of stealing the equivalent of millions of dollars from the ferry company, money they said could have been used for safety measures that were not put in place on the Sewol.
Both the prosecution and the defense have a week to appeal the verdict and sentences. After the hearing, relatives of victims said they would turn to an independent investigative panel, which the National Assembly voted to establish last week, to find more evidence against the crew members and others.
Still, for a nation traumatized by the disaster, the hearing brought the first measure of closure. On the same day, the government announced an end to the search for nine bodies still missing, saying that the ship’s interior had crumbled so much that it was too dangerous for divers.