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

Report: $60 Billion Leaves Africa Illegally Each Year

Report by joint UN and African Union panel says African countries need to take concrete measures to stop illegal money flow from continent each year More

Video Spy Murder Probe Likely to Further Strain British-Russian Relations

Some analysts say Russian Tu-95 bombers were flying near British airspace to warn Britain about an inquest into a murdered Russian spy More

Mugabe Defends Image Amid Controversy at Close of AU Summit

He rejects concerns about how the West might perceive his leadership, saying he's focused on African development More

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.
Spy Murder Probe Likely to Further Strain British-Russian Relationsi
X
Henry Ridgwell
January 31, 2015 10:50 PM
Relations between Russia and the West are set to become even more strained amid an inquiry in London into the murder of a former Russian spy. Lawyers at the inquiry accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of directing a "mafia state." Meanwhile, Royal Air Force fighters intercepted Russian bombers close to British airspace this week, prompting authorities to summon Moscow’s ambassador. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Spy Murder Probe Likely to Further Strain British-Russian Relations

Relations between Russia and the West are set to become even more strained amid an inquiry in London into the murder of a former Russian spy. Lawyers at the inquiry accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of directing a "mafia state." Meanwhile, Royal Air Force fighters intercepted Russian bombers close to British airspace this week, prompting authorities to summon Moscow’s ambassador. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Neighborhood Divided Over Conflict

People in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk districts find themselves squarely in the path of advancing Russian-backed rebels, who want to take back the territory they held at the beginning of the conflict last year. Many local residents are afraid, but others would welcome the change, even when a rebel shell lands in their neighborhood. From the Luhansk district, 15 kilometers from where the Ukrainian government marks the front line, VOA’s Al Pessin reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Later

Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid