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article imageCaptain of sunken South Korean ferry gets 36-year sentence

By Nathan Salant     Nov 15, 2014 in Travel
Gwangju - Gasps and screams filled a Gwangju courtroom Tuesday after the captain of a passenger ferry that killed more than 300 -- mostly high school students -- when it sank off South Korea last year was sentenced to 36 years in prison for negligence.
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The sentence imposed on Capt. Lee Joon-seok of the ferry Sewol was the longest of 15 prison terms imposed on the vessel's crew members who abandoned the sinking ship while hundreds of passengers were inside.
Engineer Park Ki-ho was sentenced to 30 years in prison and 13 other crew members received sentences of between five and 20 years, according to the Associated Press.
Only 172 people out of 476 passengers and crew escaped the sinking ship, which foundered off South Korea's southern coast on a routine holiday voyage to a popular vacation island.
Most of the passengers were students from Ansan High School outside Seoul who boarded the ship in Incheon for the 13-hour trip south to the holiday island of Jeju.
Parents in the courtroom shouted in dismay as the verdict was read, most demanding tougher sentences, the AP said.
"Do you know how many children are dead?" one relative shouted during sentencing, according to Kook Joung-don, a lawyer for the relatives.
"This isn't right," another screamed.
Crew members and the government have a week to appeal, the AP said, and said they intended to, but for opposite reasons.
"We will do whatever it takes to make sure that the crew members who abandoned our children, escaped, ran away and thought only of their own lives pay for their crimes accordingly," said Ko Young-hee, the mother of one of the victims.
Ironically, the sentencing came on the same day South Korean officials called off continuous searches for nine victims of the disaster whose bodies were never recovered.
But the impact of the tragedy continues to shake up South Korea's ultramodern society, as the disaster and its aftermath exposed commercial, regulatory and infrastructure shortcomings that the country long assumed were in its past.
Revelations about the conduct of the crew, about government approval for design changes that appeared to have damaged the ship's viability and about the failure of South Korea's vaunted coast guard to reach the victims for hours continue to reverberate throughout the country.
Other effects of the disaster include the apparent suicides of the principal of the high school most of the victims attended and the Sewol's billionaire owner, Yoo Byung Eun, who had fled from authorities seeking to arrest him, the AP said.
South Korea's legislature voted last week to disband the coast guard and transfer its duties to other agencies.
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