Sewol captain pleads not guilty to murder charge

The captain of the ill-fated Sewol ferry that sank in South Korean waters has pleaded not guilty to a murder charge as trial began on Tuesday in Gwangju, Korea.

Captain Lee Joon-seok and three other crew members are facing the most serious charge of “homocide through wilful negligence”, while 11 other crew members also stood trial.

The confirmed death toll over the sinking of the passenger ferry Sewol has reached 292, most of them school pupils. Twelve passengers remain missing.

According to Lee’s lawyer, the captain is already living with guilt from the fact that he left the ferry before everybody was rescued. The lawyer added that Lee was the last rescued of all the crew members and he was not in charge of loading cargo.

Investigators have said that a vast number of cargo, more than double the ferry’s limit, and the failure to tie down properly were partly responsible for the capsizing of the Sewol, which was carrying 476 passengers and crew.

The prosecution argued that the crew members could have carried out a more effective rescue operation by listening to requests for help and taking care of the passengers as their priority.

The captain and three crew members are facing murder charges and if convicted, they could face the death penalty.

The other crew members have been indicted on charges of abandonment and violating the ship safety act.

South Korean president Park Geun-hye had earlier reached her own verdict that the actions of the captain and some of the crew were “akin to murder.”

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