SEOUL (AFP) – The captain of the Sewol ferry, which sank in April with the loss of 304 lives, murdered his passengers by intentionally abandoning them to their certain deaths, a South Korean appeals court heard Tuesday.
Prosecutors argued for a homicide conviction at the first in a series of hearings that will include appeals from both the prosecution and defence in the case of Captain Lee Jun-Seok and 14 of his surviving crew.
The 15 defendants were handed jail terms in November ranging from five to 36 years for their roles in the tragedy, which plunged the entire country into a lengthy period of mourning.
The 36-year sentence was imposed on Lee who was convicted of gross negligence and dereliction of duty, but acquitted of a more serious homicide charge along with two crew members.
The prosecution wants the higher court to reconsider the dismissed homicide charges, while the defendants are appealing their convictions and the severity of the sentences.
The crew neglected their duty to rescue the passengers “even though they knew they would die”, one of the prosecutors told the high court in the southern city of Gwangju.
“So it was an intentional murder,” the prosecutor was quoted as saying by the Yonhap news agency.
The notion of “intention” is at the core of the appeals lodged by both sides.
Dismissing homicide charges against Lee and two crew members in November, the lower court ruled prosecutors had failed to prove the defendants abandoned the ship in the knowledge that the passengers would die as a result.
The exception was the ship’s chief engineer, who was convicted of homicide for specifically failing to help two injured crew members who then drowned.