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Sewol ferry captain sentenced to life for murder

In South Korea, an appeals court has found the captain of the Sewol ferry that sank a year ago guilty of murder. The ferry disaster claimed the lives of 304 people on board, most of whom were teenagers.

On Monday, the Gwangju High Court found Lee Joon-seok guilty of murder, overruling a lower court decision, which had acquitted him of homicide charges, and convicted him instead of gross negligence, sentencing him to 36 years in prison.

The captain of the ferry, which sank in April 2014, had been found guilty of negligence and abandoning his passengers at a November hearing.

However, the court stopped short of handing down the death sentence, ruling that, based on the evidence, the 69-year-old could not have known that his actions would cause such a high number of deaths.

The court ruling on Monday convicted him of homicide charges and was thus able to increase his jail time.

According to a court spokesperson, fourteen other crew members received between 18 months and 12 years imprisonment.

The sinking of the Sewol, one of the worst disasters in South Korea's history, sparked a public debate over safety standards. Investigators looking into the cause of the accident found that among other things the ferry operator had overloaded the vessel.

According to the court statement issued in November, Captain Lee had issued an evacuation order before the vessel went down, although witnesses who survived the disaster have denied this, saying they were repeatedly ordered via loudspeaker to remain on the sinking ship.

kms,lw/ (AFP, dpa)