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South Korea ferry disaster: Captain says lack of safety checks was established practice

Published on Aug 29, 2014 3:50 PM
 
Lee Joon Seok, captain of sunken ferry Sewol, arrives at a court in Gwangju on June 10, 2014. Lee told a court on Friday he was just following established practice in not making safety checks before the vessel set off -- PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (Reuters) - The captain of a ferry that capsized in April in South Korea's worst maritime accident in decades told a court on Friday he was just following established practice in not making safety checks before the vessel set off, Yonhap news agency reported.

Lee Joon Seok, 68, appeared at times disoriented and unable to properly understand questions when he took the stand for the first time in the court in the south-western city of Gwangju that is trying him and three crew members for homicide, it said.

Lee said he was following established practice by not running checks to ensure the cargo and the number of passengers fell within the limits of what his ship could carry. "It's been the custom," he was quoted as saying by Yonhap, when asked why he did not make thorough checks.

The overloaded ferry Sewol capsized and sank on a routine voyage that killed about 300 people, causing an outpouring of grief as well as outrage at President Park Geun Hye's government for what was seen by many as a botched rescue operation. Lee was among 15 crew members accused of abandoning the sharply listing ferry after telling the passengers, most of them schoolchildren on a trip to the holiday island of Jeju, to stay put in their cabins.

 
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