Lee Joon-seok, the captain who was derided and disgraced for being one of the first to abandon a sinking South Korean ferry, leaving more than 300 people to die, was sentenced Tuesday to 36 years in prison.
Although he was acquitted of murder, a verdict that prosecutors and victims’ family members criticized, Lee was found guilty of violating “seamen’s law” and abandonment causing death and injury.
The above image of Joon-seok being rescued in his shorts has been a particular point of outrage for the Korean people and the families of the victims. Many feel it highlights both Joon-seok's "save yourself" selfishness and his reckless abandonment of both the passengers and crew aboard the ferry as he was one of the first to leave the vessel.
After a five-month trial, a panel of three judges delivered the verdict and sentence. Lee faced multiple charges, including negligence, abandonment and murder, for his conduct on the Sewol ferry, which sank April 16.
Prosecutors had sought the death penalty, alleging that Lee did not use available equipment, such as life rafts, life vests and announcements, to evacuate the passengers.
Park Gi-ho, the ferry’s chief engineer, was found guilty of murder and sentenced to 30 years. The remaining 13 crewmembers were sentenced to 5 to 20 years.
Outside the court, outraged families of the victims demanded an appeal and called for the crewmembers to face the death penalty. The South Korean government said it may appeal the verdicts, according to a report by CNN.
“There were differences in opinion in many aspects,” lead prosecutor Park Jae-uck said. “It is our position to appeal so that we can ask for another judgment.”
The prosecution and defense have seven days to formally ask for an appeal.
More than 300 people died after the ferry capsized off South Korea’s southwest coast. Nearly 250 of them were high school students on their way to a field trip. Nine people are still missing.
An earlier version of this article appeared in our affiliate publication, Trade Only Today.