South Korea ferry trial: Sewol Capt Lee was 'confused'

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Media captionThe captain of the Sewol could face the death penalty, reports Stephen Evans

The captain of the South Korean ferry that sank in April has said he was in a very "confused" state during the incident, as he started giving evidence in his trial.

More than three hundred people died, most of them schoolchildren, when the Sewol passenger ferry capsized.

Lee Joon-seok, 69, is charged with negligent homicide - a crime punishable by death in South Korea.

The trial, being held in the city of Gwangju, began in June.

The BBC's Stephen Evans in Gwangju said Capt Lee repeatedly told the court that he was confused and not in his normal state of mind when the ship began to sink on 16 April.

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Image caption Along with the captain, eleven other members of the crew are also facing trial on lesser charges

Capt Lee said he had ordered the ship to be abandoned but that the order was not followed. The prosecutors say this contradicts what he had previously told the police.

Investigators have said a combination of cargo overloading, illegal modification of the vessel and inexperienced helmsmanship was behind the disaster.

A less-experienced crew member was steering the ship when it made a sharp turn causing it to list sharply to one side.

The parents of some of the teenagers who died during the incident have been attending the trial.

Our correspondent said throughout the trial, relatives of the deceased teenagers have intervened, often with wails of anguish mixed with anger.

Eleven other members of the crew are also facing trial on lesser charges.

A separate trial is under way for officials of the company that operated the ferry Chonghaejin Marine Co.

The billionaire businessman Yoo Byung-eun, the owner of the company, went missing shortly after the disaster and was later found dead.

The incident sparked widespread grief and anger in South Korea.

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