24 july 2018

Seoul’s Central District Court has ruled that families of the Sewol victims are to be paid 200 million won ($176,000) each. 304 people were killed in the 2014 disaster when the ferry sank, many of them school children.

According to The Korea Times, an additional payment will also be made to the parents and other family members. Adding in compensation for lost income for those that died, each family is set to receive around $530,000.

The judge noted the intense suffering that the victims were subject to from around 8:50am until the ferry completely sank at 10:00am, and he criticized operator Chonghaejin Marine for allowing the vessel to sail in an “overloaded and defective” state.

In 2015, the family members of 118 victims filed a damage suit against the government and Chonghaejin Marine. They refused an earlier settlement offer, and their lawyer has indicated that other issues such as the government’s alleged efforts to cover up the incident will be dealt with in a separate lawsuit.

The 6,825-ton Sewol was carrying 476 passengers when it capsized off the southwestern coast on April 16, 2014. Most of the victims were high school students on a field trip, and their deaths sparked a wave of outrage and mourning. In the wake of the disaster, some parents refused to eat, and the vice principal of the students’ school took his own life, saying that he could not live when so many had died.

The government came under heavy fire for what is widely seen as its botched rescue attempt. Dozens of officials and company officers have since been prosecuted in relation to the case. Investigators have identified that the Sewol  was carrying twice her permitted cargo tonnage at the time of the capsize and that crew had emptied ballast water in order to compensate for the overloading. The resulting reduction of the ship’s stability was found to be a key factor in the disaster.

Survivors said that shipboard intercom announcements at the time of the accident told passengers to stay in their cabins and await help. Meanwhile, the captain and crew departed the ferry in lifeboats and were the first on board Coast Guard vessels that responded to the situation.

Captain Lee Jun-seok was sentenced to life in prison in 2015 for the crime of “murder through willful negligence.” In announcing its decision, the court said that “it is fair to say that the captain knowingly and totally abandoned his role when he left the ship fully aware that passengers would drown.” 14 lower ranking crewmembers received sentences of between two and 12 years.


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