News / Asia

Student Survivors of South Korea Ferry Accident Testify Against Crew

South Koreans march during a rally 100 days after the ferry Sewol sunk in Seoul, South Korea, July 24, 2014.
South Koreans march during a rally 100 days after the ferry Sewol sunk in Seoul, South Korea, July 24, 2014.
VOA News

A group of teenaged student survivors of South Korea's ferry disaster began giving video testimony under tight security Monday in the murder trial of the vessel's 15 captain and crew members who fled as the vessel sank.

The students, appearing in Ansan, South Korea, will give their testimonies via video link to avoid direct contact with the defendants and their lawyers out of concern they might feel intimidated.

One of the students, a girl, said the crew ordered them to stay in their cabin and they obeyed until water started rising in the room. 

She said they put on life vests and floated through a doorway that was then above their heads after the ship listed to one side. They were pulled up by other students outside the cabin.

Another student testified that neither she nor any of those who escaped were at any time helped by a member of the crew.

The actual trial is taking place in Gwangju, 265 kilometers (165 miles) south of Seoul, but the judges and lawyers decamped to the court in Ansan to hold a special two-day session for the students who agreed to testify.

It was the first time the survivors - all from Dawon High School in Ansan city south of Seoul - have given evidence in the trial which began more than a month ago, the French news agency AFP reported.

Names not released

The students' names have not been disclosed and while their evidence was audible in the courtroom, their faces were only visible to the judges and lawyers for the defense and prosecution, according to AFP.

Police cordons blocked public access to the district court in Ansan as the students arrived in a red mini-bus and were escorted into the building by a tight phalanx of police officers.

The surviving crew members, including the captain, face charges ranging from homicide to negligence for abandoning the ship ahead of the passengers. Video footage of their escape triggered outrage across South Korea.

More than 300 people died after the ferry Sewol capsized on a routine trip on April 16, making it one of South Korea's worst civilian maritime disasters. Many of those killed were students from the same school on a class trip.

Only 172 people, including 75 students, were rescued and the rest are presumed to have drowned.

Passengers on board the ferry had been told to stay on board as it was sinking.

The tragedy, and in particular the loss of so many young lives, rocked South Korea with an overwhelming sense of collective shock and grief.

Ferry owner found dead

The trial comes after businessman Yoo Byung-eun, who heads the family that owned the sunken ferry operator, was found dead in June. Last week, the country's forensic agency said it was impossible to determine the cause of death as the body was badly decomposed.

A close associate of Yoo was arrested on Monday. The woman, who was believed to have been instrumental in helping Yoo elude South Korea's largest manhunt, turned herself in on Monday. Police identified her only by her last name, Kim.

Her arrest came three days after police stormed an apartment on the outskirts of Seoul and found Yoo's elder son, Dae-gyun, who was wanted for embezzlement.

Yoo Dae-gyun is one of two sons who co-owned the holding company at the center of a network of business interests that included the ferry operator.

Some information for this report provided by Reuters, AFP and AP.

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