by JAMES S. KIM
The Sewol ferry captain acknowledged in court Wednesday that he failed to make the proper decisions for passengers to evacuate once the ship had run aground, AFP reports. He denied, however, that he had intentions of leaving the passengers behind and leaving them to die.
“I think I deserve a death penalty for what I have done. But I never thought for a moment to sacrifice the passengers [to save my own life],” Lee Joon-seok said, according to Yonhap news Agency.
“I know I can’t get out of the prison no matter how much my lawyer and God help me. But I can’t have my children and grandchildren called a murderer’s family.”
“I was stunned by the accident and I lost my ability to make decisions,” a visibly shaken Lee told the Gwangju court. “I failed to take the necessary measures for passengers to leave the ship.”
Lee also told the court that he would continue to pray for the souls of the dead until he dies and apologized. “I committed a grave sin. I’m sorry,” he said as he bowed to the court audience.
Lee and three senior crew members face the charge of “homicide through willful negligence,” which could lead to the death penalty if convicted. Eleven other crew members face lesser violations. But Lee pointed to the ferry company owners as the real culprits, due to their decisions in repeatedly overloading the vessel.
State prosecutors released the findings of a five-month long investigation on Monday, putting an official stamp on the causes of the disaster: cargo overloading, illegal redesign and poor helmanship.
Lee admitted to prosecutors that he knew that six-month crew member Cho Jun-ki did not have the expertise to helm the ship as it entered a channel known for strong underwater currents. The ship made a sharp turn in the channel, causing the top-heavy, overloaded cargo to shift. The Sewol was unable to recover, eventually flipping completely over and sinking.
Lee said he was in his cabin “smoking and changing clothes” when the ferry ran into trouble. When asked if he should have taken the helm, he replied, “Yes, I guess so.” He did, however, deny allegations that he was playing games on his smartphone.
Six months after the sinking, 294 bodies have been recovered, but 10 are still missing. Most of the dead were high school students on a trip to Jeju Island.
Photo via Yonhap News