SEOUL - The captain who abandoned a doomed South Korean ferry when it capsized in April has been sentenced to 36 years in prison. A court found him and members of his crew negligent but not responsible for causing the deaths of 300 passengers, most of them students.
Captain Lee Joon-seok will most likely spend the rest of his life in prison. Prosecutors had wanted the 68-year-old to face the death penalty, but judges at the court in the city of Gwangju ruled there was not enough evidence to prove that Lee or his crew intended for the passengers to die. Instead, he was found guilty of “gross negligence.”
The captain was one of the first to be rescued when the ship capsized.
Lee’s 36-year jail sentence was not enough for some of the victim’s family members, like Kwon Oh-hyun, whose younger brother died onboard the ship.
Kwon said it was absolutely not understandable how this verdict was decided. He added that it cannot compensate for the deaths of 304 people.
Two hundred-fifty of those passengers were high school students on a class trip.
Reports say the prosecution is also unhappy with the ruling and will appeal the court’s decision.
Some of the disaster’s survivors say the crew told them to remain onboard while the ship started to sink.
Some of the other 14 crew members on trial received jail terms of varying lengths.
The Sewol ferry’s first engineer was found responsible for the deaths of two of his crewmates, who judges say he could have rescued. He was sentenced to 30 years in jail.
Meanwhile the South Korean government has called off the search for the nine passengers whose remains are believed to still be inside the sunken wreck.
The country’s maritime minister Lee Joo-young told reporters that the recovery effort has become too risky.
Lee said that now the government will decide when and how to raise the ship out of the water, but will consult the families of those still missing.
He added that the failure to bring the remains back to shore lies with him.