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Lee Joon-seok, the captain of the Sewol ferry which sank in April, has been found guilty of gross negligence and sentenced to 36 years in prison.

The Sewol ferry was carrying 476 people when it went down. More than 300 died, most of them school students.

Lee Joon-seok was among 15 crew members on trial over the sinking, one of South Korea’s worst maritime disasters.

Prosecutors charged him with homicide and called for the death penalty, but judges acquitted him on that charge.


Lee is in his late 60s, and he accepted in court that he would spend the rest of his days in jail.

Sewol ferry Captain Lee Joon-seok has been found guilty of gross negligence and sentenced to 36 years in prison

Sewol ferry Captain Lee Joon-seok has been found guilty of gross negligence and sentenced to 36 years in prison (photo Yonhap)

The judges said that he was not clearly not the only person responsible for the tragedy and they accepted that his negligence did not amount to an intent to kill.

Crew members did not secure cargo which moved when the vessel took a tight corner, toppling the ferry, and Lee was filmed leaving the sinking ship while many passengers remained inside.

During the trial Lee Joon-seok apologized for abandoning them.

The chief engineer of the ferry, identified by his surname Park, was found guilty of murder and jailed for 30 years.

Thirteen other crew members were given jail sentences of up to 20 years on charges including abandonment and violating maritime law.

Relatives of victims were distraught at the verdict, with some weeping, according to AFP news agency.

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Sewol ferry captain, Lee Joon-seok, has said he was in a very “confused” state during the incident, as he started giving evidence in his trial.

The South Korean ferry sank in April 16 and more than three hundred people died, most of them schoolchildren, when the Sewol passenger ferry capsized.

Lee Joon-seok, 69, is charged with negligent homicide – a crime punishable by death in South Korea.

The trial, being held in the city of Gwangju, began in June.

Captain Lee Joon-seok is charged with negligent homicide, a crime punishable by death in South Korea

Captain Lee Joon-seok is charged with negligent homicide, a crime punishable by death in South Korea

Capt. Lee Joon-seok repeatedly told the court that he was confused and not in his normal state of mind when the ship began to sink on April 16.

He said he had ordered the ship to be abandoned but that the order was not followed. The prosecutors say this contradicts what he had previously told the police.

Investigators have said a combination of cargo overloading, illegal modification of the vessel and inexperienced helmsmanship was behind the disaster.

A less-experienced crew member was steering the ship when it made a sharp turn causing it to list sharply to one side.

The parents of some of the teenagers who died during the incident have been in attendance at the trial.

Eleven other members of the crew are also facing trial on lesser charges.

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The cause of death for fugitive owner of Sewol ferry, Yoo Byung-eun, cannot be determined, South Korea’s forensic agency says.

Yoo Byung-eun was blamed for the recent ferry disaster.

Last week police identified a body found on June 12 as Yoo Byung-eun.

Yoo Byung-eun was wanted for questioning on possible charges linked to the sinking of the Sewol ferry in April, which killed more than 300 people.

Forensic experts said the state of the body meant the manner of his death could not be determined.

Yoo Byung-eun was wanted for questioning on possible charges linked to the sinking of the Sewol ferry

Yoo Byung-eun was wanted for questioning on possible charges linked to the sinking of the Sewol ferry

“It was impossible to conclude the cause of death since Yoo’s body was in a very advanced stage of decomposition,” Seo Joong-seok, director of the National Forensic Service (NFS), told journalists.

The NFS had ruled out drugs or poison, he said. But there had been no way to rule out other possible causes.

“There is no way to determine whether he had suffered any wounds,” Seo Joong-seok said.

“And as the intestines were so badly decomposed, we were unable to determine any disease as a cause.”

Police have been criticized for failing to connect the body, which spent six weeks in the mortuary, with Yoo Byung-eun, who was the subject of a lengthy manhunt.

Prosecutors have revealed that he hid in a cupboard at his holiday home to evade arrest. His body was found just 2.5 km from his cabin, in a plum orchard.

Yoo Byung-eun owned Chonghaejin Marine Co, which operated the Sewol.

Sewol ferry sank on April 16 off Jeju island, killing most of its passengers including scores of high-school students. Investigators say it had been illegally modified to carry more passengers and cargo, and was overloaded.

Yoo Byung-eun was wanted for questioning on possible charges of embezzlement and criminal negligence.

The sinking of the Sewol triggered widespread grief and anger at the government, which has promised to overhaul its bureaucracy and improve its emergency response.

Two separate trials – one for the vessel’s captain and crew, and another for officials at Chonghaejin Marine – began last month.

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South Korean police has confirmed that a body they found in June is that of Yoo Byung-eun, the fugitive boss of the operator of Sewol ferry that sank in April, killing more than 300 people.

Billionaire businessman Yoo Byung-eun went missing shortly after the disaster, sparking a massive manhunt.

DNA samples from the body matched those of Yoo Byung-eun’s brother, police spokesman Woo Hyung-ho said.

Police had wanted to question Yoo Byung-eun on possible criminal negligence charges.

Yoo Byung-eun, 73, was head of the family that owned ferry operator Chonghaejin Marine Co.

Yoo Byung-eun went missing shortly after the Sewol ferry disaster, sparking a massive manhunt

Yoo Byung-eun went missing shortly after the Sewol ferry disaster, sparking a massive manhunt

He went on the run shortly after the Sewol ferry, whose passengers were mostly schoolchildren, went down near Jindo island.

Yonhap news agency reported that police found a heavily decomposed body last month in a plum field in Suncheon, a city 186 miles south of Seoul.

Yoo Byung-eun was wanted for questioning on possible charges of embezzlement and criminal negligence, as prosecutors investigate whether the disaster was caused by mismanagement.

Many of his family members have been arrested and his daughter, who lives in France, is currently fighting an extradition bid. His eldest son is still on the run.

In June, some 6,000 police officers stormed a church complex in Anseong city belonging to Yoo Byung-eun.

Four church followers were detained on charges of assisting his escape and police said they were looking for several more who had helped the billionaire.

Outside the church, supporters held up a large banner that read: “We’ll protect Yoo Byung-eun even if 100,000 church members are all arrested.”

A reward of 500 million won ($490,000) had been offered for information leading to Yoo Byung-eun’s capture and 100 million won for that of his son, Yoo Dae-Kyun.

The sinking of the Sewol triggered widespread grief and anger at the government, which has promised to overhaul its bureaucracy and improve emergency response.

Two separate trials, one for Sewol ferry’s captain and crew, and another for Chonghaejin Marine Co officials, began last month.

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Fifteen sailors have gone on trial over the deaths of at least 292 people in South Korea’s Sewol ferry disaster.

Captain Lee Joon-seok, 69, and three crew members are being accused of “homicide through willful negligence”. The others face lesser charges.

The trial will focus on Lee Joon-seok’s escape from the sinking ferry while hundreds of passengers remained trapped inside.

Most of the victims of the April disaster were school students, and many of their relatives are at the court.

If convicted, Lee Joon-seok and three crew members could be handed the death penalty, but observers say it is extremely unlikely it would be carried out.

Fifteen sailors have gone on trial over the deaths of at least 292 people in South Korea’s Sewol ferry disaster

Fifteen sailors have gone on trial over the deaths of at least 292 people in South Korea’s Sewol ferry disaster (photo EPA)

Eleven other crew are being tried on lesser charges of criminal negligence and maritime law violations.

A nationwide manhunt is also under way for fugitive Korean businessman Yoo Byung-Eun, who is believed to own the Chonghaejin Marine company that ran the sunken ferry.

Yoo Byung-Eun’s daughter, Yoo Som-Na, 47, was detained in May at her home in Paris under an international arrest warrant.

Authorities are also searching for his eldest son, Yoo Dae-Kyun, offering a $100,000 for information leading to his arrest.

Yoo Byung-Eun is wanted for questioning on possible charges of embezzlement and criminal negligence.

Prosecutors have offered a $500,000 cash reward for information leading to Yoo Byung-Eun ‘s arrest.

Analysts say there are concerns that the crew will be unable to receive a fair trial in the district court in the south-western city of Gwangju.

The Sewol ferry disaster caused an outpouring of public anger, and there have been calls for severe punishment for the crew.

President Park Geun-hye condemned the conduct of some of the crew of the ferry, calling it “akin to murder”.

The confirmed death toll from the South Korea ferry disaster has reached 292, with 12 passengers still missing.

Prosecutors say the ferry owner ignored safety warnings and allowed the ship to be overloaded.

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Sewol ferry Captain Lee Joon-seok has been charged with manslaughter in South Korea, reports say.

Lee Joon-seok, 68, is accused of leaving the ship as it was sinking while telling passengers to stay put, Yonhap reported.

He was among the first to be rescued by coast guards at the scene.

The Sewol ferry disaster on April 16 killed 281 passengers, most of whom were high school students. Another 23 are still missing.

Sewol ferry Captain Lee Joon-seok has been charged with manslaughter

Sewol ferry Captain Lee Joon-seok has been charged with manslaughter (photo Yonhap)

Besides Lee Joon-seok, three crew members – the chief engineer, the chief mate and the second mate – are also being charged with manslaughter. If convicted, they could face life imprisonment.

“The [four people charged] escaped before the passengers, leading to grave casualties,” prosecutor Ahn Sang-don told journalists.

Prosecutors have indicted another 11 crew members for negligence.

Only 172 passengers survived the sinking of the ferry, including 22 of the 29 crew members.

The authorities have also arrested several people who were not on the ferry at the time of sinking.

These include five officials of the ferry owner, Chonghaejin Marine Company, and an employee of a private safety device inspection company.

The latter is suspected of conducting poor inspections of the ferry’s safety equipment.

South Korea, meanwhile, is looking to reform its safety and emergency response system in the wake of the ferry’s sinking.

President Park Geun-hye said on Tuesday that the government would soon release details of this move, said Yonhap.

She has previously apologized for the way the government handled the incident, amid questions over the initial rescue effort.

Following the recent death of a civilian rescue diver, Seoul also plans to provide psychological help for rescue workers “suffering from physical and mental agony”, said local media.

It comes amid reports the ship, submerged for nearly a month, has begun to deteriorate, making it even more difficult for divers to search for bodies.

Officials said that divers had spotted walls “getting weaker and about to collapse”. Rescue workers are now plotting new routes through the hull.

Earlier reports said that some bodies had floated away from the ship, prompting workers to deploy nets around the site.

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Lee Joon-seok, the captain of South Korean ferry Sewol that sank this week, said he delayed giving evacuation orders because he feared passengers would “drift away”.

Lee Joon-seok, 69, was arrested with two crew members on Friday.

Divers saw three bodies in the ship on Saturday but were not able to retrieve them. The number of missing stands at 270 with 32 now confirmed dead, after three bodies were found in the water.

The official leading the rescue said it “may last one or two months.”

Some 174 passengers were rescued, but poor visibility and strong currents are making the search – now in its fourth day – difficult.

Captain Lee Joon-seok faces charges including negligence of duty and violation of maritime law after being criticized for not giving orders to evacuate soon enough.

Meanwhile relatives of the victims have begun providing DNA samples to help identify bodies recovered from the wreckage.

Investigations are focusing on a sharp turn the vessel took before it started listing and whether an evacuation order could have saved lives.

Sewol’s Captain Lee Joon-seok was arrested with two crew members

Sewol’s Captain Lee Joon-seok was arrested with two crew members (photo AP)

The ferry Sewol was sailing from Incheon, in the north-west, to the southern resort island of Jeju. It capsized and sank within two hours.

Lee Joon-seok, who had already been questioned by police, was shown on television on Saturday after his arrest.

“I am sorry to the people of South Korea for causing a disturbance and I bow my head in apology to the families of the victims,” he said.

“I gave instructions regarding the route, then I briefly went to the bedroom and then [the sinking] happened.

“The current was very strong, the temperature of the ocean water was cold, and I thought that if people left the ferry without proper judgement, if they were not wearing a life jacket, and even if they were, they would drift away and face many other difficulties,” he said.

He added that rescue boats had not arrived at the time of capsizing.

The helmsman at the time, Cho Joon-ki, was also among those arrested. He said that the ship reacted differently to what he had expected.

“There was a mistake on my behalf as well but the steering [gear of the ship] turned further than it was supposed to,” he told reporters.

According to documents seen by the Associated Press news agency, maritime safety officials recommended a full evacuation of the ship five minutes after a distress call was raised.

But a crew member told the agency that it took the captain 30 minutes to issue the order.

Some experts believe the ship’s tight turn could have dislodged heavy cargo and destabilized the vessel, while others suggest the sinking could have been caused by a collision with a rock.

Messages and phone calls from those inside painted a picture of people trapped in crowded corridors, unable to escape the sharply-listing ferry.

Officials say air has been pumped into the ship to aid any people trapped inside and to help refloat the vessel.

The South Korean coastguard said on Saturday that a civilian diver had seen three bodies through a window in the fourth floor of the ship.

The diver was not able to retrieve the bodies because of floating objects and time restrictions on diving, the coastguard said.

But three other bodies found in the water near the wreck were recovered, bringing the number of confirmed dead to 32.

Choi Sang-hwan, deputy director of the national coastguard, said nets would be placed around the sunken ferry to prevent any bodies drifting away.

Some 350 of those on board were students from Danwon High School in Ansan, a suburb of Seoul, who were on a school outing when the ferry sank.

Hundreds of relatives of those on board have been camping at a gymnasium on Jindo island near the scene of the disaster.

Asked how long the rescue operation was likely to continue, Shin Won-Nam, the head of the Emergency Management Centre, told reporters that it could take weeks, if not months.

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Lee Joon-seok, the captain of South Korean ferry Sewol that capsized and sank earlier this week has been arrested, Yonhap news agency reports.

Captain Lee Joon-seok faced charges including negligence of duty and violation of maritime law.

Yonhap said a local court had issued arrest warrants for him and two other crew members on these charges.

Efforts to find the 268 people still missing have been hampered by low visibility and strong currents.

Twenty-eight people are now known to have died in the disaster, with 179 rescued.

The ferry Sewol was sailing from Incheon, in the north-west, to the southern resort island of Jeju. It capsized and sank within two hours.

Captain Lee Joon-seok faced charges including negligence of duty and violation of maritime law

Captain Lee Joon-seok faced charges including negligence of duty and violation of maritime law (photo Yonhap)

Lee Joon-seok, who had already been questioned by police, was shown on television on Thursday, his face partially obscured, apologizing to the victims and their relatives.

“I am really sorry and deeply ashamed. I don’t know what to say,” he said.

It has emerged that a junior officer – and not the captain – was at the helm of the ferry when it capsized.

Investigations are focusing on the sharp turn the vessel took before it started listing and whether an evacuation order could have saved lives.

Some experts believe such a tight turn could have dislodged heavy cargo and destabilized the vessel, while others suggest it could have been caused by a collision with a rock.

Survivors have accused the crew of instructing them to remain where they were rather than evacuate the ship.

Messages and phone calls from those inside painted a picture of people trapped in crowded corridors, unable to escape the sharply-listing ferry.

Earlier on Friday, coastguard officials said that two divers had managed to enter the cargo bay of the vessel, but could not identify or rescue anyone because of items obstructing their way.

Some 350 of those on board were students from Danwon High School in Ansan, a suburb of Seoul, who were on a school outing when the ferry sank.

The vice principal of Danwon High School, who was rescued from the ferry, was found dead on nearby Jindo island on Friday.

Kang Min-Kyu, 52, had been missing since Thursday and was discovered hanging from a tree near the gym on Jindo island – where many of the relatives of missing passengers have been staying.

Amid a major search and rescue operation, officials say air has been pumped into the ship to help any people trapped inside and to help refloat the vessel. But officials say it is unlikely anyone has survived.

Three salvage cranes have reached the site and they may be used to raise the ship or move it to another area with weaker currents.

Challenging conditions have hampered the search for a third consecutive day.

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