South Korea ferry disaster
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Investigators of Gwangju District Court take photos on a ferry at the port of Incheon, South Korea. An investigation was conducted on the cabin and structure of a ferry, which is of the same type with the sunken ship Sewol. Photo: Xinhua

Relatives of South Korean ferry disaster victims weep and jeer at trial

Emotional reaction to video shown in court of captain and others jumping into rescue boat


Relatives of victims of South Korea's ferry disaster wept amid angry scenes in court yesterday as prosecutors played video footage of the sinking vessel during the murder trial of the captain and crew.

The video, taken from coastguard boats and helicopters, showed the last moments of the 6,825-tonne Sewol ferry as it listed and then capsized on April 16 with the loss of around 300 lives.

Among the dead were some 250 students from the same high school in Ansan city just south of Seoul.

Watch: Video of captain leaping from sinking South Korean ferry, leaving students to die

Dozens of family members were in court in the southwestern city of Gwangju and many wept openly at the scenes of passengers desperately trying to escape the ship.

They also jeered and shouted in anger at the 15 defendants when the video showed close-up shots of the captain and some crew members jumping from the sinking ferry into a rescue boat.

Captain Lee Joon-seok and three senior crew members are accused of "homicide through wilful negligence" - a charge that can carry the death penalty.

The 11 other crew are being tried on lesser violations of maritime law.

The bulk of the charges arise from the fact that Lee and the others chose to abandon the ferry while hundreds of people were still trapped inside.

They were also condemned for ordering the passengers to remain where they were when the ship began listing.

Before the video footage was shown, the prosecutors had used a model of the Sewol to show where most of the passengers were when it ran into trouble.

In particular they noted the location of many student victims who, on the orders of the crew, had remained in their cabins on the fourth level.

"With timely evacuation efforts, these students could have fled through these exits," one prosecutor said, pointing to the model.

"But almost all of them waited in their cabins and died. We will make it clear that this result was caused by the behaviour of the defendants," he said.

The atmosphere in the court was highly charged. At one point the mother of one student victim rushed out in tears.

And as the court adjourned for lunch, one of the fathers stood and began to harangue the judge.

"The evidence is clear. They are human scum!" the father shouted. "We should just drown them all," he said, pointing to the defendants. "Why do we need more evidence?" There have been some expressions of concern about how fair the trial can be with emotions still running so high.

Yesterday's hearing coincided with the release of a damning report into the Sewol sinking by the state auditor, which said official negligence, corruption and greed had combined in a "man-made disaster".

The ferry owners had placed "monetary gain over passenger safety" while the crew had acted "irresponsibly", said the report, which was the result of a two-month investigation.

It recommended that 11 government officials be put on trial and disciplinary hearings held for some 40 others.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Relatives of ferry dead weep and jeer at crew's trial