News / Asia

    South Korea Ferry Crew Members Stand Trial; Emotions Run High

    • Evangelical Baptist Church believers sit as police officers searching for a fugitive billionaire businessman over April's ferry sinking stand in line in font of the main gate of the church in Anseong, South Korea, June 11, 2014.
    • Police officers separate a Buddhist believer from Evangelical Baptist Church believers as she denounced them near the main gate of the church in Anseong, South Korea, Wednesday, June 11, 2014.
    • Evangelical Baptist Church believers sit as police officers searching for a fugitive billionaire businessman over April's ferry sinking stand in line in font of the main gate of the church in Anseong, South Korea, June 11, 2014.
    • A family member of passengers aboard the sunken ferry Sewol cries after a pretrial hearing for crew members of the ferry at Gwangju District Court in Gwangju, South Korea, June 10, 2014.
    • Family members of victims onboard sunken ferry Sewol sit in front of a building in which crew members are detained, after attending a hearing at the local court in Gwangju, South Korea, June 10, 2014.
    • Family members of victims onboard sunken ferry Sewol sit in front of a building in which crew members are detained, after attending a hearing at the local court in Gwangju, South Korea, June 10, 2014.
    • Family members of passengers aboard the sunken ferry Sewol ask police officers to meet with crew members of the ferry after a pretrial hearing for them at Gwangju District Court in Gwangju, South Korea, June 10, 2014.
    • Family members of passengers aboard the sunken ferry Sewol struggle with a security officer, right, while attempting to attend a pretrial hearing for the ferry's crew members at Gwangju District Court in Gwangju, South Korea, June 10, 2014.
    • Judges sit to preside over a hearing for crew members of the sunken ferry Sewol at Gwangju District Court in Gwangju, June 10, 2014.
    South Korea Ferry Crew Members Stand Trial
    VOA News
    The highly charged trial of 15 crew members 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.

    Ferry Captain Lee Joon-seok, 68, and three crew members are charged with "homicide through willful negligence" and face a possible death sentence. 

    Two other crew members were charged with fleeing and abandoning ship that carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. Nine others 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.

    April 16 accident

    The Sewol, overloaded and traveling 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.

    With divers still searching the submerged vessel for bodies and emotions sky-high less than two months after the tragedy, there are concerns over how fair the trial in the southern city of Gwangju will be.

    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.”

    Captain called scapegoat

    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 and was being made a scapegoat by those who shared more responsibility for the disaster.

    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.

    "He could not take steps to rescue (passengers) because the ship tilted heavily," the lawyer said.

    “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.
     
    South Korea, approximate location of ferry sinkingSouth Korea, approximate location of ferry sinking
    x
    South Korea, approximate location of ferry sinking
    South Korea, approximate location of ferry sinking

    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 panel of three judges presided over the first day of the trial, as the state called for justice to be served and the seven defense 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 bulk of the charges arise from the fact that Lee and the others chose to abandon the 6,825-ton ferry while hundreds of people were still trapped inside the heavily listing vessel before it capsized.

    A handful of crew members who stayed and tried to guide passengers to safety were among those who died.

    Tragedy stuns country

    The tragedy stunned South Korea, unleashing a wave of public anger as it emerged that incompetence, corruption and greed had all contributed to the scale of the disaster.

    Much of that rage focused on Lee and his crew, especially after the coast guard released a video showing the captain, dressed in a sweater and underwear, scrambling to safety.

    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 coast guard, which is set to be broken up, is also facing investigation for suspected  negligence in the course of the rescue operation.

    Fairness questioned

    South Korean media coverage of the crew's arrest and arraignment was often colored by a presumption of guilt, and just weeks after the disaster President Park Geun-hye stated that the crew's actions had been "tantamount to murder,” the French news agency AFP reported

    Such unequivocal statements in a heated atmosphere have fueled concerns about the trial's fairness.

    "It will be a very difficult case and the court will be under a lot of pressure," said Jason Ha, a senior attorney with a leading law firm in Seoul.

    The defendants reportedly had enormous difficulty in securing private legal representation, with few lawyers willing to take on the defense in such an emotive case, AFP reported.

    Six public defenders were eventually appointed to the defense team.

    Although the captain and three crew could, if convicted, be handed the death penalty, it is extremely unlikely it would be carried out.

    A moratorium has been in place in South Korea since the last execution took place in late 1997. Currently, there are about 60 people on death row.

    Some information for this report provided by Reuters and AFP.

    You May Like

    Russian-speaking Muslim Exiles Fear Possible Russia-Turkey Thaw

    Exiled from Russia as Islamic radicals and extremists, thousands found asylum in Turkey

    US Presidential Election Ends at Conventions for Territorial Citizens

    Citizens of US territories like Guam or Puerto Rico enjoy participation in US political process but are denied right to vote for president

    UN Syria Envoy: 'Devil Is in the Details' of Russian Aleppo Proposal

    UN uncertain about the possible humanitarian impact of Russian proposal to establish escape corridors in Aleppo

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Informed from: USA
    June 10, 2014 9:04 AM
    They need to transfer the trail to another location. Depending on how the ferry turned it most likely would have been impossible to open any doors freeing the passengers. The true fault is the greed on over loading the ferry and making it "top heavy". The one that orders the cargo is the one that should be on trial. Most ferries are very hard to turn over, they are set low in the water for this reason. If the ferry was upgraded to allow more then that should not have passed inspection. Looks like the South Korean government is at fault.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Busi
    X
    July 28, 2016 4:16 AM
    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Bus

    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Silicon Valley: More Than A Place, It's a Culture

    Silicon Valley is a technology powerhouse and a place that companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple call home. It is a region in northern California that stretches from San Francisco to San Jose. But, more than that, it's known for its startup culture. VOA's Elizabeth Lee went inside one company to find out what it's like to work in a startup.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Philadelphia Uses DNC Spotlight to Profile Historic Role in Founding of United States

    The slogan of the Democratic National Convention now underway in Philadelphia is “Let’s Make History Again” which recognizes the role the city played in the foundation of the United States in the 18th century. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, local institutions are opening their doors in an effort to capitalize on the convention spotlight to draw visitors, and to offer more than just a history lesson.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora