South Korea Ferry Captain Not Guilty of Murder


Lee Joon-Seok, the capital of the sinking South Korean ferry who kept many passengers on board, was given a sentence of 36 years in jail today, but not convicted of murder.  He was found guilty of violating ‘seamen’s law’ and abandonment that caused death and injury.

The sentence came at the end of a 5-month trial where a panel of three judges gave the verdict and sentence to Lee, who faced a number of charges including negligence, murder and abandonment for his conduct on the ferry that sunk on April 16th.

Death penalty

Prosecutors had sought the death penalty for Lee because he did not make use of equipment such as lift vests and rafts, nor did he issue evacuation announcements to the passengers.  The ferry’s chief engineer, Park Gi-ho, was found guilty of murder and sentenced to 30 years while the other 13 crew members were given between five and 20 years.

Family members of those who died on the ferry met the verdict with outrage and called for an appeal, seeking the death penalty for all of the crew.

Over 300 people died when the ferry capsized off the south-west coast of South Korea in April.  Among them, around 250 were high school students on a field trip.  Nine people are still missing, with the government finally ending the underwater search this week after seven months.

The South Korean Minister of Oceans and Fisheries admitted that the ocean conditions were deteriorating with the coming winter season and added to dangers such as collapsing sections inside the ferry made the continued search too dangerous.

He added that the ferry will be sealed after the search has finished but that the chances of finding the remaining victims was waning, with the chance of further casualties growing.  The decision about a salvage operation will be made after discussions with experts and the families.


One of the most damming pieces of evidence against Lee was the picture of him in shirt and underwear jumping to rescuers.  While there is no international maritime law that states the captain should go down with the ship, his actions were widely criticised and showed he had prioritised his and his crew’s safety over the passengers.

President Park Geun-hye even commented on the case, calling the actions of the ferry captain and his crew ‘akin to murder’.  Lee has apologised on numerous occasions, saying his actions were not intentional.

He said he was stunned by the accident and lost the ability to make decisions but never thought that he should leave passengers to die to save himself.  He and three of his crew members were charged with murder when the trial began in June.

Among those who testified were several survivors who said the announcements they heard told them to stay put, not to evacuate.  The ship eventually capsized, trapping hundreds of the passengers inside as it did.

Lee’s main defence was that he had only been the captain of the ship for six days and was no wilfully negligent.  His lawyer said he now understands his responsibilities and was relying on ‘psychological medication and sleeping pills’.  In court, he admitted that he had committed a sin worthy of death.


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