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4 crew of Sewol ferry charged with manslaughter

SEOUL -- The captain and three other crew members of the ferry that sank off South Korea last month were indicted Thursday on charges of manslaughter through gross negligence, a prosecutor said.

Under South Korean criminal law, Captain Lee Joon-seok, two navigators and a chief engineer could be handed the death sentence if convicted, although that penalty is very unlikely to be carried out.

“The four were indicted on charges of manslaughter through gross negligence,” senior prosecutor Yang Jong-Jin, who is also spokesman for the prosecution, told AFP.

Even after being instructed by maritime safety authorities to help passengers evacuate the Sewol ferry, they failed to take any action and almost an hour later got on the first rescue boat, Yang said.

The four are accused of leaving the ship as it was sinking while telling passengers, mostly high school students on a school excursion, to stay where they were.

They scrambled to safety along with 11 other lower-ranking crew members while hundreds remained trapped, Yang said, not only failing to issue an order for passengers to leave the ship but keeping to themselves the information that a rescue boat had arrived.

They took off their uniforms and changed into civilian clothes, aware that uniformed crew members should be the last to evacuate, prosecutors were quoted as saying by Yonhap news agency.

The death penalty is rarely applied in South Korea, where a moratorium has been in place since the last execution took place in late 1997. Currently, there are some 60 people on death row.

The 11 other crew members were indicted on less serious charges including wrongfully steering the vessel, abandoning a ship and leaving passengers in a sinking boat without making efforts to rescue them, Yang said.

Ferry Interior Collapsing

Coastguard spokesman Ko Myung-Suk said it retrieved five bodies late Wednesday and three more Thursday. The confirmed death toll now stands at 284, with 20 still missing.

The Sewol was carrying 476 people when it sank off the southern coast on April 16 after listing sharply to one side.

Of those on board, 325 were children from a high school in Ansan City in the southern suburbs of Seoul who were on an organized trip to the southern resort island of Jeju.

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