The captain of the Sewol ferry that sank leaving 304 people dead was sentenced to life by a South Korean appeals court, increasing his initial prison term from 36 years.
Gwangju High Court said Tuesday in an e-mailed ruling that it overruled a lower court’s acquittal of Lee Joon Seok, 69, on homicide charges, leading to the stiffer sentence. The court rejected the prosecutors’ demand for the death sentence.
The ruling reflects the public anger that lingers over last year’s sinking, with most of the victims high school students on a class trip.
“The entire nation fell into mass depression as they suffered huge sadness and fright while watching the sinking of young students in a ferry,” the court said in the ruling. “Lee’s act is paramount to the only medical doctor on a night shift leaving behind a patient in critical condition.”
It wasn’t immediately clear whether Lee would appeal the ruling. The chief of Chonghaejin Marine Co., the ferry’s operator, has also been sentenced to 10 years for violating maritime safety rules.
Prosecutors said the design of the Sewol was dangerous, and it was overloaded when it began its journey from Incheon to the resort island of Jeju. An inexperienced crew member was at the wheel when the boat began to list, with the captain absent in his cabin, they said.
Days after the disaster, President Park Geun Hye said the actions of the crew were “like murder.” Chung Hong Won, her prime minister at the time, stepped down to take responsibility for the sinking and rescue operation.