The trial of the captain and crew of the Sewol ferry continued Tuesday, with prosecutors saying they will show how passengers were not properly evacuated from the vessel as it began to sink, a tragedy that resulted in the loss of about 300 lives in South Korea in April.
The captain and three senior crew members face negligent homicide charges, which could carry a possible death sentence. Other crew members are accused of the lesser charge of negligent manslaughter.
Prosecutors laid out their case at Tuesday's hearing, saying they will introduce a video demonstrating how a captain and crew are meant to safely evacuate a ship in distress. The video is intended to contrast with the actions of the Sewol crew, which have been the subject of virulent criticism since the April 16 sinking.
Public outrage has centered on a video and photos showing the ferry captain and crew fleeing the vessel on the first available rescue boats while hundreds of passengers remained in cabins below the ship’s deck.
All but one of the accused have pleaded not guilty, arguing that it was the boat owner's duty - not the crew's - to ensure the Sewol abided by safety standards, and that it was the Coast Guard’s responsibility to rescue passengers.
On Tuesday, the official death toll rose to 293 as the first body in more than two weeks was recovered from the ship. Eleven more passengers remain missing.
A court on Tuesday accepted a request from several students who survived the sinking to provide recorded testimony instead of appearing in court. The students will testify via closed circuit from a court in the suburbs of Seoul, though the main trial is being held a few hours south in Gwangju, the closest sizable city to where the Sewol went down. They will appear before the court in the next round of hearings, to take place in late July.
The court ruled that the students are still recovering from the trauma of the accident and will be spared the inconvenience of traveling, without being questioned by the defense.
Prosecutors have argued that sufficient ballast water had not been loaded, which is used to maintain a ship's balance, and instead extra cargo was added that could earn revenue. After owner Cheonghaejin purchased the Sewol in 2012, it refurbished the ship to increase its capacity, which experts have said would have raised its center of gravity.
At the trial’s opening hearing earlier this month, family members of those killed in the sinking picketed, screaming at the captain and crew while carrying placards with messages including, “The souls of our children are watching you” and “Are you human? You’re no better than beasts.”
In a public address about a week after the tragedy, President Park Geun-hye described the actions of the captain and crew as “tantamount to murder.”
Cheonghaejin CEO Kim Han-sik and four executives have been charged with negligence causing death in a separate trial. Kim and his co-defendants pleaded not guilty to allegations of causing the accident by overloading the ferry with cargo and failing to properly train the crew in how to safely carry out an emergency evacuation. Their next hearing will be held in July.
Borowiec is a special correspondentCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times