A South Korean ferry captain was sentenced today to 36 years in prison for negligence and abandoning passengers when his ship sank earlier this year, but the court acquitted him of homicide, concluding there was no proof he knew his actions would cause the more than 300 deaths that shocked and outraged the country. The widely vilified captain could have received a death sentence had he been convicted on the homicide charge. The highly anticipated verdict came on the same day searches were called off for the final nine victims and amid continuing grief and finger-pointing over one of the worst disasters in South Korean history.
Victims' relatives immediately criticized the sentences for Capt. Lee Joon-seok and other crew members as too lenient, with some weeping and shouting during the court proceedings. "Do you know how many children are dead?" one relative said, according to a lawyer for the relatives. The court also concluded that Lee had issued an evacuation order and had left the ship after rescue boats arrived on the scene; many survivors have said they were repeatedly ordered over a loudspeaker to stay on the sinking ship and that they didn't remember any evacuation order being given. The court sentenced the ship's chief engineer to 30 years in prison and 13 other crew members to up to 20 years in prison. (Read more South Korea stories.)