South Korean government sues operator of sunken Sewol ferry

A diver jumping into the water to inspect the sunken ferry Sewol as part of a probe.
A diver jumping into the water to inspect the sunken ferry Sewol as part of a probe.PHOTO: EPA

SEOUL (AFP) - The South Korean government on Thursday (Nov 19) sued the operator of the Sewol ferry that sank in April last year, seeking reimbursement of millions of dollars in state compensation paid to families of the 304 victims.

The lawsuit, filed by the Justice Ministry, held the Cheonghaejin Marine Co. liable for nearly 188 billion won (S$229 million) spent in compensation and on other operations to deal with the tragedy, a ministry spokesman told AFP.

Around 160 billion of the company's assets have been pre-emptively frozen in order to prevent their sale or transfer, the spokesman said.

The Sewol was carrying 476 people when it went down off the south-west island of Jindo on April 16, 2014.

Of the 304 who died, 250 were pupils from the same high school.

The tragedy shocked and enraged the country as it became clear that it was almost entirely man-made - the result of an illegal redesign, an overloaded cargo bay, an inexperienced crew and an unhealthy nexus between operators and state regulators.

Last week, the Supreme Court upheld a murder conviction and life sentence for the captain, Lee Jun Seok, saying that by abandoning the sinking vessel he had effectively drowned the passengers to save himself.