THE president of a South Korean ferry company has been jailed for ten years over the sinking of the Sewol, which killed more than 300 people.
Kim Han-sik, president of Chonghaejin Marine Company, was also fined £1,150 for failing to stop poor storage and over-loading of cargo on the ship, which judges ruled contributed to the sinking in April.
Four other Chonghaejin officials were jailed for three to six years on similar charges, and two employees were handed suspended prison sentences at Gwangju District Court.
An official at the Korea Shipping Association, which oversees safety, was jailed for three years for allowing the ferry to leave a port near Seoul without checking its cargo. Two employees of a private company that loaded the ship each received two-year jail terms.
More than seven months after the Sewol sank en route to a southern resort island, the country is still grappling with the aftermath of the disaster, which exposed serious shortcomings in public safety.
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Divers recovered 295 bodies from the wreck before underwater searches were stopped last week. Nine remain missing.
Officials blamed crew negligence, overloading, an unprofessional rescue operation and corruption by the ship’s owners for the tragedy. Company officials were indicted for alleged professional negligence and violating laws on safety at sea.
Last week, the same court gave 15 crew members prison terms. Ferry captain Lee Joon-seok was cleared of homicide, as there was no proof he knew his actions would cause 300 deaths.
The Gwangju District Court instead sentenced him to 36 years for negligence and abandoning passengers. Lee had issued an evacuation order and left the ship with hundreds of passengers on board, most of them teenagers.
Many survivors say they were repeatedly ordered via loudspeaker to stay on the sinking ship and did not hear any evacuation order before they helped each other try to flee the vessel.
The court sentenced the ship’s chief engineer to 30 years and 13 other crew to up to 20 years.
The engineer, Park Ki-ho, was convicted of homicide because he abandoned two injured colleagues and failed to inform rescuers about them after fleeing.
Two other crew members were cleared of homicide and sentenced to 15 and 20 years.
The Sewol, a 6,825-tonne car ferry, was redesigned to add cabins and an exhibition room after its purchase in 2012. As a result, the ship became top-heavy.
Because of this, the Korean Register of Shipping approved the vessel as seaworthy only on condition it substantially reduced its cargo limit.
However, Chonghaejin Marine continued to overload the Sewol with cargo, making an additional profit of £1.8 million in the previous year as a result.
The court heard that Kim encouraged managers at weekly meetings to hit cargo targets, even while his company was trying to sell the ship because of its instability.
Kim, 71, had argued it was questionable whether over-loading and the redesign had led to the sinking, according to his lawyer, Kang Seok-won.
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