CEO of Sewol Ferry Operator Sentenced to 10 Years

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

The Gwangju District Court delivered a 10-year prison sentence to the head of the company that operated the Sewol ferry, which capsized in April and killed over 300 passengers, according to the Yonhap News Agency.

Kim Han-sik, 71, the chief executive of Chonghaejin Marine Co., was found guilty on Thursday of involuntary manslaughter and negligence for allowing the ferry to be overloaded with improperly stowed cargo and approving illegal renovations to increase passenger capacity.

“Kim remodeled the ship and overloaded it with cargo in an effort to overcome the company’s deficits despite being briefed that the ship’s ability to balance itself was compromised,” Judge Yim Jung-yeob said in his ruling.

The CEO was also convicted of embezzling millions of dollars from the ferry company and diverting it to the company owner Yoo Byung-eun’s family for the past four years. In addition to his 10-year jail term, the court imposed a 2 million won fine on Kim.

Kim had repeatedly denied these charges, insisting that he was merely following orders from Yoo, whose decomposed body was found in June after a weeks-long manhunt.

At the trial, Kim was joined by 10 other defendants, including six Chonghaejin Marine’s executives. The court acquitted one defendant and sentenced the remaining nine with prison sentences ranging from three to six years.

According to Yonhap, the prosecutors allege that Chonhaejin routinely overloaded the ill-balanced vessel with passengers and cargo to generate an extra $3 million in profit.

Last week, the Sewol’s captain, Lee Jun-seok, was sentenced to 36 years in prison for gross negligence and violating safe maritime law, avoiding the death penalty. Lee’s attorney had argued that Chonhaejin should be held responsible for the ship’s sinking as the sailors had no control over the cargo.

In response to April’s ferry disaster, President Park Geun-hye recently launched a new government agency to replace the dismantled coast guard as part of her plans to reform the country’s emergency and safety management.

Photo courtesy of Yonhap