15 may face homicide charges

The prosecution said Monday that it is considering filing negligent homicide charges against 15 crewmembers of the Sewol who escaped the sinking ferry without evacuating passengers.

This is the first time that prosecutors have hinted that all the sailors who were working on the ill-fated ship may be subject to negligent homicide charges, which comes with a maximum sentence of death.

Until now Captain Lee Joon-seok and two other crewmembers who were on the bridge at the time of the accident were the only possible subjects of the severe charges.

“We are now getting to the bottom of the cases to decide on what charges to indict the 15 sailors. One possibility is to file charges of negligent homicide against them,” said a prosecutor from a joint investigation team.

“Toward that end, however, it would be difficult to prove their actions of not helping passengers trapped inside the ferry were deliberate.”

Captain Lee was not on the bridge when the 6,825-ton ferry started to list on early April 16 off the southwestern coast of the country before completely capsizing in just two hours.

Lee and other sailors did not take proper measures to save the passengers, mostly teenage students from a high school on the outskirts of Seoul who were on a trip to the scenic holiday island of Jeju.

Instead, they instructed passengers to stay in their cabins. Yet, they were among the first group to be rescued by the Coast Guard, leaving the students trapped inside the sinking ferry. Almost 200 are confirmed dead and more than 100 still remain unaccounted for.

Accusations are currently growing that they willfully neglected their duty and all the 15 crewmembers are now in custody.

Meanwhile, prosecutors raided a Coast Guard office in Mokpo, near the accident site, Monday, as its officials have come under fire for bungling the early response to the calls for rescue.

Widening the ongoing investigation into Yoo Byung-eun, the de facto owner of Sewol’s operator Chonghaejin Marine, they also seized documents and computer files from companies related to him.

Yoo, former chief of Semo Marine, is a mysterious businessman who has been running Chonghaejin and other companies along with his two sons. The prosecution has also been investigating them since the tragedy occurred. By Kim Tae-gyu The korea times

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