The South Korean ferry captain responsible for last year's disaster that killed more than 300 people, mostly schoolchildren, was given an increased sentence of life in prison today by an appellate court that convicted him of homicide. A district court in November had sentenced Lee Joon-seok to 36 years in prison for negligence and abandoning passengers in need, but acquitted him of homicide. Victims' relatives criticized the verdict at the time, saying it was too lenient. Prosecutors earlier had demanded the death penalty. Lee's sentence was increased because the Gwangju High Court convicted him of the homicide charges while upholding most of other charges that led to his November conviction, according to a court statement.
Lee committed "homicide by willful negligence" because he fled the ship without making any evacuation order, though he, as a captain, is required by law to take measures to rescue his passengers, the statement said. "For whatever excuses, it's difficult to forgive Lee Joon-seok's action that caused a big tragedy," the court statement cited the verdict as saying. The appellate court overturned the previous ruling that Lee issued an evacuation order as the ferry sank, saying Lee didn't take other necessary steps to save passengers that he should have taken if he indeed issued an evacuation order. Fourteen other crew members were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 18 months to 12 years, the statement said; in November, they had received sentences of five to 30 years in prison.