Sewol ferry captain jailed for murder of 304 passengers

Grief, outrage as South Korea mourns Sewol victims
Grief, outrage as South Korea mourns Sewol victims

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Story highlights

  • Sewol ferry sank a year ago off the coast of South Korea, killing 304 people
  • Prosecutor said original sentence for skipper was insufficient
  • Government last week decided to raise the ferry

(CNN)The captain of the Sewol ferry, which sank in South Korea last April, has been found guilty of murder on appeal and sentenced to life imprisonment, according to a court in the southern city of Gwangju.

On November 11 last year, Lee Joon-seok was acquitted of murder but found guilty of gross negligence and other charges and sentenced to 36 years in prison.
    Prosecutors then appealed the verdict because they did not think it was sufficient.
    The Sewol sank on April 16, 2014 killing 304 people, mostly high school students who were on their way on a field trip to Jeju island, off South Korea's southern coast.
    Passengers were told repeatedly by the crew members to stay where they were as rescuers would arrive soon. Many of them listened to the instructions and remained in place. As the ferry tilted sideways, water seeped in and objects in the ship toppled over, injuring people and blocking their way out.
    Anger over how the crew failed to evacuate the passengers intensified when video surfaced of Lee in his underwear leaping into the arms of the Korean Coast Guard, while hundreds remained trapped in the vessel.
    The bodies of nine out of the 304 people killed in the disaster are still missing.

    Anger at government

    Lee Joon-seok in court
    Families have also criticized the government over its response. Communication over the rescue efforts were jumbled, paving way for rumors and hoaxes. Criticism swirled over the South Korean Coast Guard's effectiveness in carrying out the rescue operation.
    In February, the captain of the first coast guard ship sent to rescue the Sewol passengers was jailed after being found guilty of negligence and making false reports.
    South Korean President Park Geun-hye pledged major reforms, dismantled the coast guard and vowed an investigation into what went wrong. That promised investigation has been hampered by politics and disagreements between the families and the government over who should participate in the investigation.
    On the anniversary of the sinking, Park also backed plans to raise the wreck of the ferry. Work will begin in September and is expected to take 12 to 18 months, Minister of Oceans and Fisheries Yoo Ki-joon said at a news conference last week.