UK & World News

  • 15 May 2014, 9:15

South Korea Ferry Captain Charged Over Deaths

The captain of the South Korean ferry that capsized killing more than 280 passengers has been charged with manslaughter.

Two officers and a chief engineer have been charged with the same offence. If convicted all four could face the death penalty.

"The captain, a first officer and second officer and the chief engineer escaped before the passengers, leading to grave casualties," prosecutor Ahn Sang-don, who is leading the investigation, said.

They are accused of leaving the ship as it was sinking while telling passengers, mostly high school students, to stay where they were.

Prosecutors have also charged 11 other surviving crew members of the Sewol with negligence and abandoning passengers in need.

The charges were filed at Gwangju District Court where an official said a trial date will be decided in a few days. All 15 defendants are expected to be tried together.

Mr Ahn said the Sewol's stability had been compromised after it had been altered to increase capacity and it had been overloaded before it set sail on April 16.

It also had insufficient water in the ballast tanks used to keep it steady.  

Strong currents where the disaster happened made the vessel less responsive and prompted the crew to make a turn of 15 degrees, sharper than advisable, causing the ferry to list rapidly and then sink, Mr Ahn said.

He added: "The captain should have been in command of the navigation, but left that to a third officer, and that is gross negligence."

Captain Lee Joon-seok told passengers to stay in their cabins and it was about half an hour before an evacuation order was issued. It is not clear whether that order was ever conveyed to passengers.

After his arrest, Lee told reporters he withheld the evacuation order because rescuers had yet to arrive and he feared for the safety of passengers in the water.

A coastguard spokesman said a further five bodies were recovered on Wednesday, bringing the total to 284. Twenty people are still missing.

Only 172 people including 22 of the ship's 29 crew members survived, with the rest presumed to have drowned.

Most of the victims were students and teachers from a school near Seoul on a day trip to the southern tourist island of Jeju.

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