S Korea ferry: Prosecutors seek death penalty for captain

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Media captionFamilies of the victims say they want the truth to be revealed, as Steve Evans reports

South Korean prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for the captain of the Sewol ferry, which sank in April killing more than 300 people.

The prosecutors said Lee Joon-seok, who is charged with homicide, failed to execute his duty.

The call came as they concluded their case in a trial which began in June.

The sinking sparked nation-wide grief and led to severe criticism of both safety standards and the government's handling of the rescue operation.

Many of those who died when the ferry sank were teenagers on a school trip. The disaster was blamed on a combination of illegal redesigns, overloading of cargo and an inexperienced crew member steering the vessel.

There was public outrage after survivors testified that they had been told by the crew to stay where they were even as the boat started to sink.

Jail terms

Prosecutors said Capt Lee "escaped the ship without making any efforts to rescue passengers", AFP news agency reported.

"He made excuses and lied. He showed no repentance... and so we ask for the death sentence," they said.

No-one has been executed in South Korea since 1997.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Images from the 16 April incident show Capt Lee being rescued from the sinking ferry

During the course of the trial, which is being held in the southern city of Gwangju, Capt Lee repeatedly told the court that he was confused and not in a normal state of mind when the incident occurred.

When questioned, he did concede that he should have done more to get passengers to safety.

He also admitted that he knew the crew member steering the ship at the time of the accident was relatively new to the job and did not have the skills and experience required.

Prosecutors asked for three crew members to be sentenced to life in imprisonment.

They also recommended terms of between 15-30 years for the other 11 crew members who were tried on lesser charges.

The court is expected to deliver its verdict and sentences for all 15 crew members in November.

The Sewol had 476 passengers on board when it capsized and began to list off the southern coast of South Korea on 16 April.

Only 172 people survived the tragedy, with Capt Lee and his crew among the first to climb into rescue boats.

A separate trial is ongoing for employees of the company that operated the ferry, Chonghaejin Marine Co.

The owner of the company and billionaire businessman Yoo Byung-eun disappeared after the disaster and was later found dead.

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