Fifteen crew members of the Sewol ferry went on trial today in South Korea over their role in the deadly sinking that left hundreds dead in the country’s biggest maritime disaster in more than four decades.
Four of the crew, including Captain Lee Joon Seok, have been charged with homicide after abandoning the sinking ship on April 16, while passengers were told to stay in their cabins. Only 172 of the 476 people aboard the Sewol were rescued.
The trial was set to begin at 2 p.m. at Gwangju District Court, south of Seoul, the court said on its website. A separate trial is scheduled later this month for the chairman of the ferry operator and other senior employees charged with allowing excess cargo on the ship and other safety breaches.
“Today’s trial will mostly be about which charges the crew members acknowledge or deny,” Hahn Jee Hyung, a Gwangju court spokesman, said by phone. He wouldn’t say when the court would issue a verdict.
Most of the victims on the Sewol were high school students on a field trip to a resort island. Divers have so far recovered 292 bodies with 12 still missing.
Calling the actions of the crew “like murder,” South Korean President Park Geun Hye vowed to overhaul the government after public criticism over what she called a failed rescue operation. The sinking triggered a wave of national anger and grief that sent Park’s approval rating to the lowest in a year and sapped consumer confidence, threatening to slow the economy.
Park nominated Moon Chang Keuk, a former journalist, as her new prime minister today after accepting the resignation of Prime Minister Chung Hong Won over the handling of rescue operations. Her earlier pick withdrew from consideration, after denying graft allegations raised by opposition lawmakers.
Park’s Saenuri party and the main opposition split last week’s local elections amid repercussions from the sinking in her first electoral test since taking office in February last year.