Asia

Sewol disaster: South Korea to pay nearly $400,000 per student killed

Relatives of the victims of the sunken ferry Sewol cry at a gym on South Korea's southwestern island of Jindo, where they have been staying at since the April 16 sinking of ferry Sewol, in Jindo, South Korea, Tuesday, 11 November 2014 Image copyright AP
Image caption Some relatives of victims have been staying at a gym near the site of the sinking since April

South Korea is to pay about $380,000 (£256.000; €353,000) in compensation for each of the nearly 250 students killed in the Sewol ferry disaster.

The ferry was carrying 476 people when it sank last April. More than 300 died, most of them students on a school trip.

The boat's captain has been jailed for 36 years for gross negligence. The disaster was also blamed on corrupt management and an inexperienced crew.

Victims' relatives are demanding an independent inquiry into the sinking.

Their demands have intensified in the run-up to the anniversary of the disaster on 16 April.

The disaster triggered nationwide grief followed by outrage, and led to severe criticism of safety standards and of the government's handling of the rescue operation.

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Media captionHow South Korea ferry disaster unfolded

On Wednesday, the government said it will also give nearly $700,000 to the families of the teachers who died.

The families of other victims killed when the ship went down will receive up to $550,000, depending on their age and income.

Relatives of the dead are expected to receive further money from public donations and insurance payments.

Those who survived the accident will also be offered government compensation for their injuries and loss of income.

The captain of the Sewol, Lee Joon-seok, was among 15 crew members to be tried last year over the sinking, one of South Korea's worst maritime disasters.

Prosecutors had charged him with homicide and called for the death penalty, but judges acquitted him on that charge.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Fourteen crew members were jailed on a range of charges, along with the captain

The accident was blamed on a combination of illegal redesigns, the overloading of cargo and the inexperience of the crew member steering the vessel.

Crew members did not secure cargo which moved when the vessel took a tight corner, toppling the ferry. Lee was filmed leaving the sinking ship while many passengers remained inside. During the trial, he apologised for abandoning them.

The chief engineer of the ferry, identified by his surname Park, was found guilty of murder and jailed for 30 years.

Thirteen other crew members were given jail sentences of up to 20 years on charges including abandonment and violating maritime law.

A separate trial was held for employees of the firm that operated the ferry, Chonghaejin Marine Co.

The owner of the company and billionaire businessman Yoo Byung-eun disappeared after the disaster and was eventually found dead.

Several of his relatives were later jailed for embezzlement.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Images from the 16 April incident show Lee being rescued from the sinking ferry

Sewol victims

  • 325 students aged between 16 and 17 from Danwon High School, south of Seoul, were on a school trip to the holiday island of Jeju when the ferry sank
  • Only about 70 survived - many had obeyed orders to stay put as the ferry listed
  • Several texted their family members goodbye and to tell them "I love you". One also filmed what turned out to be his last moments on his mobile phone inside the ship. The texts and footage were retrieved by parents and later broadcast on national television
  • Some of the survivors later testified that they had to float out of cabins and most of the crew members did not attempt to help them
  • At least three crew members died trying to evacuate passengers. They included an engaged couple, Jung Hyun-seon and Kim Ki-Woong, and the youngest crew member Park Ji-young, who gave her lifejacket to a passenger. All three have been named "martyrs" by the government

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