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Relatives weep, jeer at South Korea ferry trial

08 July 2014, 10:05

Gwangju - Relatives of the victims of South Korea's ferry disaster wept amid angry scenes in court on Tuesday as prosecutors played video footage of the sinking vessel during the murder trial of the captain and crew.

The video, taken from coastguard boats and helicopters, showed the last moments of the 6 825-ton Sewol ferry as it listed and then capsized on 16 April with the loss of around 300 lives.

Among the dead were some 250 students from the same high school in Ansan city just south of Seoul.

Dozens of family members were in the courtroom in the southern city of Gwangju and many wept openly at the scenes of passengers desperately trying to escape the ship.

They also jeered and shouted in anger at the 15 defendants when the video showed close-up shots of the captain and some crew members jumping from the sinking ferry into a rescue boat.

Captain Lee Joon-Seok and three senior crew members are accused of "homicide through wilful negligence" - a charge that can carry the death penalty.

The 11 other crew are being tried on lesser violations of maritime law.

The bulk of the charges arise from the fact that Lee and the others chose to abandon the ferry while hundreds of people were still trapped inside.

They were also condemned for ordering the passengers to remain where they were when the ship began listing.

'Students could have fled'

Before the video footage was shown, the prosecutors had used a model of the Sewol to illustrate where the majority of the passengers were when the ship ran into trouble.

In particular they noted the location of many student victims who, on the order of the crew, had remained in their cabins on the fourth level.

"With timely evacuation efforts, these students could have fled through these exits," one prosecutor said, pointing to the model.

"But almost all of them waited in their cabins and died. We will make it clear that this result was caused by the behaviour of the defendants," he said.

The atmosphere in the court was highly charged, and at one point the mother of one student victim rushed out in tears and could be heard weeping loudly in the hallway.

When the judge ordered a 10-minute break, another family member screamed at the defendants: "You sons of bitches! I'll kill you!"

And as the court adjourned for lunch, one of the fathers stood and began to harangue the judge.

"The evidence is clear. They are human scum!" the father shouted.

"We should just drown them all," he said, pointing to the defendants. "Why do we need more evidence?"

Even as the judge admonished him for the outburst, other relatives joined in and one woman had to be restrained as she tried to hurl her shoes at the dock.

Lee and his crew were publicly vilified in the wake of the tragedy, and there been some expressions of concern about how fair their trial can be with emotions still running so high.

Tuesday's hearing coincided with the release of a damning report into the Sewol sinking by the state auditor, which said official negligence, corruption and greed had combined in a "man-made disaster".



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