A South Korean court has ordered the eldest son of the late owner of the Sewol ferry to compensate the government for the disaster. The ferry sank in 2014 killing more than 300 people, mostly school students.
The government had sued Yoo Dae-kyun, son of the late Yoo Byung-eun, for $3.1 million to cover the costs involved in handling the April 16, 2014, disaster, including compensation to the families of the victims, reports Yonhap news agency. However, the court ruled he should only pay approximately $652,000, noting that the ferry's operator, Chonghaejin Marine, should be targeted for further compensation.
According to the ruling, the government spent $174 million coping with the disaster's aftermath.
The accident has been largely blamed on the ship’s illegal redesign and cargo overload, but officials have also pointed to negligence by crew members along with slow rescue efforts.
Sewol’s captain Lee Jun-seok was sentenced to life in prison, the court saying that he “knowingly and totally abandoned his role when he left the ship fully aware that passengers would drown.” He was among the first off the vessel, while loudspeaker announcements repeatedly instructed passengers to stay in their cabins. Defense lawyers for Lee in turn accused the coast guard of failing in their duty to rescue the passengers.
Fourteen lower ranking crewmembers have been charged and found guilty of lesser offenses, and have received between two and 12 year jail sentences. Dozens of officials and company officers have also been prosecuted in relation to the sinking.
Shanghai Salvage is trying to salvage the sunken vessel intact in hopes of finding the bodies of nine missing Sewol victims. Since June last year, the salvors have been attaching steel lifting beams to the sunken ship. Installing the final six on the stern has been problematic as the stern is partially buried. The salvage is expected to be completed this year. Salvage operations have been hampered by poor weather, difficult geotechnical conditions and the technical difficulty of the project.
Correction: Many outlets – including The Maritime Executive – have incorrectly described Chonghaejin's chairman, Yoo Byung-eun, as the Sewol’s owner. Yoo did not have any ownership interest in Chonghaejin: two of Yoo's sons, Yoo Dae-kyun and Yoo Hyuck-ki, controlled the largest stake in the firm through a series of holding companies. Prosecutors alleged that Yoo Byung-eun retained de facto control of the company, but not formal ownership. The Maritime Executive has corrected the coverage above to reflect this fact.