The captain of a South Korean ferry that capsized in April killing 304 passengers was jailed for 36 years on Tuesday after a court found him guilty of negligence, but was acquitted of homicide for which prosecutors had sought the death penalty.
The court convicted the ship’s chief engineer of homicide for not aiding two injured fellow crew members, making him the only one of four facing homicide charges to be found guilty on that count, and sentenced him to 30 years in prison.
The remaining 13 surviving crew members of the ferry Sewol were found guilty of various charges, including negligence, and handed down prison terms ranging from five to 20 years.
Cries and shouts of anger and disbelief erupted in the packed courtroom in the southern city of Gwangju as the verdict and sentences were read.
The victims’ families issued a statement after the verdict, saying they were devastated by the decision and justice had failed.
“The families are strongly asking the prosecution to appeal so that the defendants can receive proper punishment,” Park Jong-dae, father of one of the children who died, said in the statement read outside the courthouse.
The overloaded Sewol capsized while making a turn on a routine voyage to the holiday island of Jeju. The vessel was later found to be defective, with additions made to increase passenger capacity making it top-heavy and unstable.
The ferry operator also loaded the ship with excess cargo and not enough water in the ballast tank to maintain balance, causing it to list sharply when it made the ill-fated turn on April 16 and sink rapidly.
Only 172 of the ferry’s 476 passengers and crew were rescued. Of the 304 confirmed dead or still listed as missing, 250 were school children. The government announced earlier on Tuesday it was halting the search for the nine still missing as conditions at the wreck have become too dangerous.