South Korea coast guard officer jailed over Sewol ferry disaster

SEOUL (AFP) - A South Korean coast guard ship commander was jailed for four years on Wednesday on manslaughter charges related to last year's Sewol ferry disaster, which killed more than 300 people.

The court in the southern city of Gwangju found Kim Kyung Il guilty of professional negligence resulting in death, a court spokesman said by phone.

Prosecutors said Kim, whose vessel was the first on the scene as the Sewol listed and sank, bore responsibility for the botched rescue effort that wasted precious time and delayed the evacuation of passengers from the stricken ferry.

He was also charged with making a false report that he had broadcast an evacuation order through loudspeakers.

The overloaded and unstable Sewol was carrying 476 people when it capsized off the southern island of Jindo on April 16 last year. Of the 304 who died, 250 were students from the same high school.

The tragedy - blamed by many on regulatory failings, official incompetence and the ship's illegal redesign - plunged the nation into a lengthy period of mourning.

The official response to the disaster was widely criticised for being slow, uncoordinated and unfocused, and prompted President Park Geun Hye to vow a complete overhaul of national safety standards.

More than 50 people have been put on trial on charges linked to the sinking, including 15 crew members who were among the first to climb into lifeboats.

The Sewol's captain was jailed in November for 36 years for gross negligence and dereliction of duty, while three other senior crew members were sentenced to jail terms of between 15 and 30 years.

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