Prosecution, defence appeal S. Korea ferry disaster crew sentencing

SEOUL (AFP) - A South Korean court Tuesday began hearing appeals from the prosecution and defence related to the 15 Sewol ferry crew members jailed over the sinking that claimed more than 300 lives.

The prosecution wants the higher court to reconsider the dismissed homicide charges against Captain Lee Jun-Seok and some of the 14 surviving crew members, while the defendants are appealing the convictions and the severity of the sentences handed down in November.

The Sewol was carrying 476 people on board when it capsized off South Korea's southern coast on April. Of the 304 who died, 250 were students 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.

Lee and his crew were publicly vilified - especially after video footage emerged showing them escaping the vessel while hundreds remained trapped onboard.

Lee was convicted of gross negligence and dereliction of duty and jailed for 36 years, but he was acquitted of a more serious homicide charge along with two crew members.

The core of the argument to be heard during the appeal is whether the captain and crew intentionally abandoned the passengers in the knowledge that they would die as a result.

The lower court ruled the prosecution had only proved such an intention in the case of the chief engineer, who was convicted of murder for failing to help two injured crew members.

The engineer, and the other defendants, argue that they were paralysed by blind panic that prevented them considering the full consequences of their actions.

The appeal hearings will be attended by relatives of the victims who were outraged by the homicide acquittals and belive Lee and senior crew members deserve the death penalty.

A verdict is expected on April 28.

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