Emotions Run High in Court as Korea Ferry Crew Face Trial

Posted by Joseph Keefe
Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Captain caught abandoning boat in his underwear as children stayed in cabins; "Imagine the children were yours," mourning families tell crew.

Fifteen crew of a South Korean ferry that sank in April killing more than 300 people, most of them children, went on trial on Tuesday on charges ranging from negligence to homicide, with the shout going up of "murderer" as the captain entered the court.

Captain Lee Joon-seok, 68, and three senior crew members were charged with homicide, facing a maximum sentence of death. Two were charged with fleeing and abandoning ship that carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. Nine were charged with negligence, which can also carry jail terms.

Emotions ran high in court as family members appeared to have already convicted the crew who were caught on video abandoning ship, the captain in his underwear, while the children, obeying orders, waited in their cabins for further instructions.

As the defendants were led in, someone in the packed courtroom shouted: "That guy is the captain, isn't he? Murderer!"

One relative held up a sign that read: "You are not human. You are beneath animals." An altercation broke out between relatives and security guards who tried to take the sign away.

The Sewol, overloaded and travelling too fast on a turn, sank off the southwest coast on April 16 on a routine journey from Incheon on the mainland to the southern holiday island of Jeju.

Of the 476 passengers and crew on board, 339 were children and teachers from the same school on the outskirts of Seoul. Only 172 people were rescued and the remainder are all presumed to have drowned.

Mourning family members packed the court in Gwangju, the closest city to the scene of the disaster, as the 15 were led in and seated on two rows of benches.

The 15 have been in detention since they were charged in May.

A family member spoke on behalf of others at the start of the hearing, imploring the defendants to tell the truth.

"Would you have done the same if these were your children? Please imagine for a moment that they were your children who died and tell the truth."

The lawyer for the captain, in an opening statement, said his client had no power to stop the ferry company's practice of overloading the vessel with cargo.

The lawyer, Lee Kwang-jae, also said the captain had not meant to cause the accident, and there were therefore no grounds for the homicide charge.

"It wasn't like he had a grudge against the children so it's difficult to accept the prosecution's argument that he wilfully neglected the duty of rescue and escaped to save himself," Lee told the court.

The sound of sobbing was heard throughout the courtroom as the state presented its case and the head prosecutor's voice broke when he recounted the last moments of some of the children.

"I DON'T KNOW WHY THIS IS HAPPENING"

One child was caught on video, recovered later, staring death in the face, the prosecutor said.

"I'm not a criminal, I don't know why this is happening," the child was quoted as saying. "I haven't done anything that bad."

The court suspended the hearing and set the next court appearance for next Tuesday.

About 20 relatives stood outside the court waiting for the defendants' bus to appear. Park Eun-hee, the mother of a girl who died on the ferry, denounced the crew's earlier defence that they had panicked.

"We mothers say this. The crew claimed that they had panic disorder so they didn't know what to do or couldn't save the passengers," she said sobbing. "But during that time, our children were crying as they called their parents and said they were scared."

A Gwangju judge who handles media affairs, Hahn Jee-hyung, said the defendants were unlikely to get a concerted defence in the highly publicised case.

"They were appointed by the court, so we hope there is no criticism of them," Hahn told reporters before the hearing.

A panel of three judges presided over the first day of the trial, as the state called for justice to be served and the seven defence lawyers presented their case.

The captain and one senior crew member had written to the court pleading leniency, court documents show, but details were not available.

Authorities are still searching for Yoo Byung-un, head of the family that owned the operator of the doomed ferry, on charges of embezzlement seen as a key factor that led to compromised safety management.

Police have arrested executives of the ferry operator and subsidiaries of the investment firm held by Yoo's family but they have yet to go on trial. The coastguard, which is set to be broken up, is also facing investigation for suspected negligence in the course of the rescue operation.

President Park Geun-hye, who days after the disaster said the actions of some of the crew were tantamount to murder, nominated a former journalist as her choice to be the new prime minister to replace the incumbent who resigned over the government's slow and ineffective response to the disaster.

Moon Chang-geuk was expected to take charge of overhauling bureaucracy and reforming safety standards as pledged by Park.

A lawyer appearing for the one of the crew in hearings held earlier behind closed doors confessed to being torn between professional obligation and the resignation that lawyers could not make any difference amid a nationwide witch hunt.

"It is a burden for every lawyer, because the crime is something that can hardly be forgiven," he said in the small coastal town of Mokpo last month.

"It's not just that one person died. There were hundreds. All I could say to the judges is 'we will await your wise decision'. That was it."

 

By Ju-min Park

Maritime Reporter October 2014 Digital Edition
FREE Maritime Reporter Subscription
Latest Maritime News    rss feeds

People & Company News

Sapurakencana Wins 3 Petronas Oil blocks

SapuraKencana Petroleum Berhad today announced that it has entered into Sale and Purchase Agreements to acquire the entire interest of PETRONAS in 3 blocks offshore

Kemp Succeeds Semple at Wood Group

Wood Group announced following changes to its senior management team. Alan Semple, chief financial officer (CFO) has advised the board that he intends to

ST Engineering Rejigs Top Deck

Singapore Technologies Engineering Ltd (ST Engineering) today announced the appointment of senior management personnel to new key management positions in the

Legal

Sapurakencana Wins 3 Petronas Oil blocks

SapuraKencana Petroleum Berhad today announced that it has entered into Sale and Purchase Agreements to acquire the entire interest of PETRONAS in 3 blocks offshore

ST Engineering Rejigs Top Deck

Singapore Technologies Engineering Ltd (ST Engineering) today announced the appointment of senior management personnel to new key management positions in the

Houston Port Commission Approves budget

The Fiscal Year 2015 Operating and Capital Budget was approved Thursday during a special meeting of the Port Commission of the Port of Houston Authority.   Projections

Passenger Vessels

Energy Storage System Ordered for LNG Battery Hybrid Ferry

Norwegian hybrid to be the first LNG battery ferry to operate on commercial routes Corvus Energy, Siemens AS and Fjord1 have announced the award of the contract for the Fannefjord LNG hybrid ferry.

Sustainability Report: Carnival Ahead of Emissions Goal

Carnival Corporation & plc released a report today detailing its sustainability efforts, including initiatives which enabled the company to meet its corporate goal

New Agency to Replace S. Korea Coast Guard after Ferry Disaster

South Korea launches a massive new government agency this week to handle emergency rescue and safety management seven months after a ferry disaster killed 304 people

Casualties

USCG Assist Duck Hunters Near Harrington Beach Park

The Coast Guard and the Port Washington and Cedar Grove Fire Departments came to the assistance of two duck hunters on Lake Michigan Friday. The names of those involved are not being released.

7 Rescued from Sinking Freighter Near Haiti

Seven crewmembers were rescued after their 100-foot coastal freighter began taking on water and sank approximately 45 miles north off of Cap Haitien, Haiti, Friday.

Update: Explosion in the Gulf of Mexico

An explosion occurred aboard a production platform Thursday at West Delta 105, operated by Fieldwood Energy, resulting in one fatality and three injured. The Bureau

Maritime Safety

USCG Assist Duck Hunters Near Harrington Beach Park

The Coast Guard and the Port Washington and Cedar Grove Fire Departments came to the assistance of two duck hunters on Lake Michigan Friday. The names of those involved are not being released.

HMAS Success Deploys to Middle East

After months of preparation, HMAS Success departed Garden Island in Sydney today for a six-month deployment to the Middle East Region to provide logistic support

7 Rescued from Sinking Freighter Near Haiti

Seven crewmembers were rescued after their 100-foot coastal freighter began taking on water and sank approximately 45 miles north off of Cap Haitien, Haiti, Friday.

Government Update

Russia Has No Plan to Cut Oil Output

Russia, the world's biggest energy exporter, does not plan to cut oil production to shore up prices, Rossiya 24 television quoted Energy Minister Alexander Novak as saying on Saturday.

Nigeria to Cut Petrol Subsidy by Half

Nigeria plans to cut subsidies on petroleum products by half next year after sharp falls in global crude prices, spurred the government to revise its 2015 budget downwards,

Venezuela Ships First Crude Mixed with Algerian Oil to China

Venezuela is sending its first shipment of crude mixed with Algerian light oil to China, according to state oil company PDVSA and traders.   Venezuela recently

Ferries

Gazprom Transgaz Ufa Organizes Arts Festival

Over 200 healthy children and children with disabilities from Bashkortostan as well as the Volga Region participated in the Breaking the Barriers second interregional children’s arts festival,

Energy Storage System Ordered for LNG Battery Hybrid Ferry

Norwegian hybrid to be the first LNG battery ferry to operate on commercial routes Corvus Energy, Siemens AS and Fjord1 have announced the award of the contract for the Fannefjord LNG hybrid ferry.

New Agency to Replace S. Korea Coast Guard after Ferry Disaster

South Korea launches a massive new government agency this week to handle emergency rescue and safety management seven months after a ferry disaster killed 304 people

 
 
Maritime Careers / Shipboard Positions Maritime Contracts Maritime Security Maritime Standards Pipelines Ship Electronics Ship Repair Ship Simulators Shipbuilding / Vessel Construction Winch
rss | archive | history | articles | privacy | terms and conditions | contributors | top maritime news | about us | copyright | maritime magazines
maritime security news | shipbuilding news | maritime industry | shipping news | maritime reporting | workboats news | ship design | maritime business

Time taken: 0.3575 sec (3 req/sec)