Angry families scream at South Korean ferry captain, crew as trial begins

Angry families scream at South Korean ferry captain, crew as trial begins

Angry families scream at South Korean ferry captain, crew as trial begins

Written by Staff Writer

11 Jun, 2014 | 8:39 am

Family members of those who died on the Sewol ferry gathered in front of a building where crew members are being held in the South Korean city of Gwangju on Tuesday.

They’ve waited for this day for nearly two months — to look the crew of the doomed South Korean ferry, Sewol  in the eyes and tell them how they felt.

On Tuesday, inside a courtroom in the southwestern South Korean city of Gwangju, relatives of the some 300 killed on that ship — many of them schoolchildren — got their chance.

Yelling and screaming, those with loved ones from that stricken ferry vented Tuesday at Capt. Lee Joon-seok and 14 members of his crew. As a family representative explained in court, while weeks have passed since the April 16 sinking, their grief and anger have not.

“For us, time has stopped,” he said. “When I see students wearing school uniforms, I feel like my child will come back home and say, ‘Dad, I’m home.”

While there’s no bringing back those killed, the trial does intend to bring a degree of justice — though both sides have very different ideas on what that entails.

Lee pleaded not guilty to a murder charge.

According to his lawyer, the captain is already living with guilt from the fact he left the ferry before everybody was rescued.

Attorney Lee Gwang-jae said that Lee was only helming the ship for six days, he was the last rescued of all the crew members and he wasn’t in charge of loading cargo.

Investigators have said a vast amount of cargo, more than double the ferry’s limit, and the failure to tie it down properly were partly responsible for the capsizing of the Sewol, which was carrying 476 passengers and crew.

“I am concerned that those who are more responsible are shifting blame to the defendant,” said the attorney.

Some in the court weren’t convinced — yelling after the lawyer’s statement.

And, of course, neither was the prosecution.

According to its version of events, the crew members could have carried out a far more effective rescue operation. They could have listened to requests for help, rather than ignored them. They could have made taking care of the passengers their first priority, rather than taking care of themselves.

According to the prosecution, what several members of the crew did can be summed up in one word: Murder.

The captain and three of his crew members are facing murder charges. If convicted, they could face the death penalty, although it has been nearly two decades since capital punishment was last carried out in South Korea.

The other crew members have been indicted on charges of abandonment and violating a ship safety act.

The accused entered the Gwangju courtroom Tuesday wearing light green or light blue outfits. They were told to asked to stand and state their names, national ID numbers and addresses, before prosecutors read out the charges.

A judge, not a jury, will decide their fate.


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