Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Long Prison Sentences as Ferry Captain Cleared of Murder Prompt Criticism from Shipping Union

Terms of Imprisonment from Five to Thirty Six Years for Officers and Crew Diverts Attention from Authorities
Shipping News Feature

SOUTH KOREA – The sentences handed down to the master and crew of the ferry Sewol which sank in April with the loss of more than 300 lives have been described as ‘appalling’ for their severity by leading seafarers union Nautilus who are blaming in part the country’s government departments responsible for safety of native shipping.

As outlined in our story last month prosecutors had demanded the death penalty for Captain Lee Joon-seok, who was charged with homicide. He was alleged to have caused the disaster as he was in charge of the ferry, and he had also been accused of failing to organise evacuation efforts and violating Korean maritime law which expressly forbids his leaving the ship before the passengers. Despite being cleared of murder the Captain received a term of thirty six years in prison at the end of the five month trial having been found guilty of violating ‘seamen’s law’ and abandonment causing death and injury.

Park Gi-ho, the ferry’s Chief Engineer, was in fact found guilty of murder and sentenced to 30 years whilst the remaining 13 crew members, including the Chief Officer and Second Mate, were sentenced between five to 20 years. Nautilus General Secretary Mark Dickinson said he was appalled at the severity of the sentences adding:

“From the outset, there has been a concerted drive to criminalise the officers and crew in this incident and these extreme penalties take the practice of scapegoating seafarers to an unprecedented level. We have consistently raised concern about whether the crew would be given a fair trial. They weren’t and we did not expect a fair outcome.

“This isn’t justice, it’s an act of shifting responsibility from a government safety agency and the operating company for failings and outright illegality. Thus the sentences meted out are about assuaging understandable public anger and seem grossly unfair given the other known mitigating factors that have been highlighted in this case.

“Issues including training, experience, safety management, ship design and construction, and the effectiveness of the regulatory regime are all critical factors in this disaster. It is all-too easy for the South Korean authorities to pin the blame on the officers and crew, while ignoring systemic shortcomings in maritime regulations and enforcement.

Photo: Coast guard footage which claims to show the captain and crew being rescued from the ferry. Hundreds of students were shut in their cabins as the ship went down, sent there on the orders of the crew. The video of the event can be seen HERE.