South Korea Ferry Disaster: Prosecutors Seek Death Penalty For Captain
|Photo: S. Korean Coast Guard|
“Lee supplied the cause of the sinking of the Sewol … he has the heaviest responsibility for the accident,” the lead prosecutor in the case, Park Jae-eok, said.
“We ask that the court sentence him to death.”
We disagree. The proximate cause of the accident was an accident of stability. It has been proven that the ship was modified with an extra deck added to increase revenues. No such additions should be allowed to occur without the approval of the national marine regulatory authorities. If the plan for ship modification is approved, the "stability letter" should be recalculated to reflect the new conditions. The "stability letter" describes the maximum number of passengers allowed, ballast conditions, maximum draft, bilge conditions to maintain , etc. to assure that the ship will not capsize. It has been demonstrated that all of the procedures required for a safe modification were not followed by the owner, who acted out of greed and the S.Korean maritime authorities who did not use "due diligence". The Captain and crew had every right to rely on their stability letter. The ship capsized predictably, once the facts surrounding the deck addition became known, but unexpectedly for the Captain and crew. The weather was cold, the Captain's initial stability data didn't indicate a sudden captize was imminent. Under the circumstances the choice to tell the students to stay in their cabins to protect them from hypothermia and panic was erroneous, but not unreasonable when the incorrect technical information could not be known. The survival of the Captain and certain crew members is a mix of accident of fate and breach of duty.
The mysterious owner of the ferry, the real culprit in this tragic event has died under mysterious circumstances. He can never be tried. The Captain and surviving crews merit having their occupational licenses revoked, merit some civil liabilities for the death, some may even merit negligent homicide findings. But seeking the death penalty for the Captain can only be viewed by maritime professionals as an obvious cover up of regulatory agency / national government malfeasance. Kill the Captain and insure that his only defense, the inappropriate deck addition, inaccurate stability data, and inefficient or dishonest regulatory process is never examined.
Maritime professionals around the world should raise voices in protest. To seek to execute a man who never exhibited any intent to kill, who was denied the proper information to make more sound decisions, no matter how dreadful the results, is to choose a scapegoat, and let the real responsible parties for the root cause vice mismanagement of the emergency reaction, off the hook. Its is simply governmental murder. When we first began observing the case we cautioned against the rush to judgement and expressed confidence in the South Korean Coast Guard and maritime authorities. But it is obvious now that a national prosecutor has chosen judicial murder as the path not of justice and truth, and future incident prevention, but of protection of the reputations of those in power in the national government. Shame on South Korea's government and on the Prosecutor. Enough people have died already due to the owner's and government's malfeasance. A death penalty has no place in this case and casts suspicion on all who seek it.