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South Korea ferry capsize: Tears, anger, harrowing scenes as wrenching video shown at trial

Tuesday, 8 July 2014 - 3:15pm IST | Place: Gwangju (South Korea) | Agency: AFP
  • south-korea-ferry-capsize AFP

Relatives of the victims of South Korea's ferry disaster wept in court Tuesday as prosecutors played wrenching mobile phone video footage from inside the sinking vessel during the murder trial of the captain and crew.

There were angry scenes in the courtroom in the southern city of Gwangju, with irate family members repeatedly shouting abuse at the 15 defendants and demanding they all be sentenced to death.

In the morning session, prosecutors showed video from coastguard boats and helicopters of the last moments of the 6,825-tonne Sewol ferry as it listed and then capsized on April 16 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 inside the court wept openly at the scenes of passengers desperately trying to escape the ship. The tears turned to angry jeers as the video showed close-up shots of the captain and some crew members jumping from the sinking ferry into a rescue boat.

"You sons of bitches! I'll kill you!" one woman shouted at the dock.

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.

As well as abandoning the ferry while hundreds were still trapped inside, the crew were condemned for ordering passengers to remain where they were when the ship began listing.

'They are human scum'

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

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 accused.

Earlier, the prosecutors had used a model of the Sewol to show where most of the passengers were when it ran into trouble. In particular they noted the location of many student victims who, on the orders 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.

There was more video evidence in the afternoon session, but this time it was mobile phone footage taken by a 17-year-old student who died in the disaster. "This will be very sad to watch," the judge warned. "But we need to know exactly what happened during these moments. No matter how sad you feel we have to watch this."

Tragic mobile phone video

The nine-minute video – excerpts of which had previously been shown on national television – shows Park and other students laughing and joking about being in the Titanic movie as the ferry begins to list. As the situation worsens, the students begin to panic, even as the ship tannoy can be heard advising them to stay put.

As it was being shown, the families in the courtroom became increasingly agitated, and when the judge stopped the footage a minute before it ended, they protested angrily until he agreed to resume the playback.

Lee and his crew were publicly vilified in the wake of the tragedy, and there have 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". The ferry owners had placed "monetary gain over passenger safety" while the crew had acted "irresponsibly", said the report, which was the result of a two-month investigation.




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