|The capsized Sewol ferry|
Revised sentence follows November verdict of 36 years for captain of Sewol, which sank last year with the deaths of more than 300 people
A South Korean appeals court has handed down a toughened sentence of life in prison to the captain of the Sewol ferry which sank last year with the deaths of more than 300 people.
The revised sentence follows a November verdict by a district court that sentenced Lee Joon-seok to 36 years in prison for negligence and abandoning passengers in need. Victims' relatives criticised that sentence at the time, saying it was too lenient. Prosecutors had demanded the death penalty for Lee.
Lee's sentence was increased on Tuesday because the Gwangju high court convicted him on homicide charges, according to court spokesman Jeon Ilho. In the November ruling Lee was acquitted of homicide.
The appellate court sentenced 14 other navigation crew members to 18 months to 12 years in prison, Jeon said. In November they had received sentences of 5 to 30 years in prison.
Jeon said both prosecutors and the crew members would have one week to appeal the verdicts.
Most of the victims were teenagers traveling to a southern island for a school trip. A total of 295 bodies have been retrieved but 9 others are missing.
Many student survivors have said they were repeatedly ordered over a loudspeaker to stay on the sinking ship and that they didn't remember there any evacuation orders made by crewmembers before they helped each other to flee the ship. Lee has said he issued an evacuation order.
A year after the April 2014 sinking, the South Korean government is still reeling from lingering public criticism of its handling of the incident, the country's deadliest maritime disaster in decades. Violence occurred during a Seoul rally led by relatives and their supporters earlier this month, leaving dozens of people injured.
Last week South Korea formally announced it would salvage the ship from the ocean floor off the country's south-west coast, in an operation estimated by experts to cost US$91m-137m and take 12 to 18 months.
Authorities blame excessive cargo, improper storage, botched negligence and other negligence for the sinking, and have arrested about 140 people. Critics say higher-level officials have not been made accountable.
Source: The Guardian, April 28, 2015
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