South Korea ferry disaster: Prosecutors seek death penalty for captain

In this file picture taken on June 24, 2014, Sewol ferry captain Lee Joon-Seok (centre) is escorted upon his arrival at the Gwangju District Court in the southwestern South Korean city of Gwangju. South Korean prosecutors on Monday demanded the
In this file picture taken on June 24, 2014, Sewol ferry captain Lee Joon-Seok (centre) is escorted upon his arrival at the Gwangju District Court in the southwestern South Korean city of Gwangju. South Korean prosecutors on Monday demanded the death penalty for the captain of the Sewol ferry that sank in April, saying he had abandoned the more than 300 people who died in the disaster. -- PHOTO: AFP

GWANGJU, South Korea (AFP) - South Korean prosecutors on Monday demanded the death penalty for the captain of the Sewol ferry that sank in April, saying he had abandoned the more than 300 people who died in the disaster.They also sought life sentences for three senior crew members as the trial of Captain Lee Joon Seok and 14 Sewol crew wound up in the southern city of Gwangju.Lee “escaped the ship without making any efforts to rescue passengers", the prosecution team said in its sentencing recommendation to the court. “He made excuses and lied. He showed no repentance... and so we ask for the death sentence,” the prosecution said.Lee and three senior crew had all faced the capital charge of “homicide through wilful negligence” but the prosecution said only the captain should receive the death penalty, as the burden of responsibility lay with him. The three others should receive life sentences, they said, while recommending prison terms of between 15 and 30 years for the remaining 11 crew who were tried on lesser charges.The Sewol was carrying 476 passengers and crew when it sank off the southern coast on April 16. Only 174 people were rescued.Lee and most of his crew were among the first to climb into rescue boats.As well as abandoning the ferry while hundreds were still trapped inside, they were publicly vilified for ordering passengers to remain where they were when the ship began listing.

The court is expected to deliver its verdict and sentence in early November.Although the death penalty is still passed in South Korea, nobody has been executed since 1997. Currently, there are some 60 people on death row.Lee has insisted that the ferry owners are the real culprits as it was their decision to consistently overload the vessel and commission an illegal redesign.The disaster stunned South Korea and unleashed an enduring wave of public anger that had fuelled some concerns over whether the captain and crew could receive a fair trial.South Korean media coverage of their arrest and arraignment was often coloured 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 defendants had difficulty in securing private legal representation, with few lawyers willing to take on the defence in such an emotive case.