Legal measures against the main crew responsible for the Sewol ferry continued on Thursday with the news that they had been charged with homicide. The indictment, which could lead to the death penalty, was handed down to Captain Lee Joon-Seok (pictured), the chief engineer and two other crew members, according to South Korean media reports.
The four crew members are suspected of abandoning the passenger ferry after it began sinking during a trip between the Korean mainland and the holiday island of Jeju. Despite their obligation to attend to the safety of the passengers, prosecutors allege that they boarded one of the first rescue boats instead.
South Korea's Munhwa Ilbo daily newspaper reported that the captain and the other three who were indicted were suspected of disguising their identity in order to escape the vessel unnoticed. Because they would have been recognized as crew members, they reportedly changed into civilian clothing before abandoning ship.
Prosecutors also charge the defendants with failing to notify the 476 passengers – most of which were high school students - to leave the ferry.
Eleven other crew members have also been charged with negligence.
On April 16, the Sewol ferry capsized while en route from the South Korean mainland to the holiday island of Jeju. The disaster claimed 281 lives. Twenty-three people remain missing.
The tragic loss of life has angered many in South Korea who view the incident as a sign of corrupt practices and negligence in the public safety sector.
The chief executive of the Chonghaejin Marine Co., which owns the Sewol ferry company, admitted later that he knew the ferry had exceeded its cargo limit. Initial investigators suggested that the vessel had been carrying up to three times its safe cargo capacity.
kms/jm (AFP, Reuters, dpa)