ITF Condemns Sewol Ferry Sentences

The South Korean passenger ship Sewol is seen sinking off Jindo, April 16, 2014. REUTERS/Yonhap
The South Korean passenger ship Sewol is seen sinking off Jindo, April 16, 2014. REUTERS/Yonhap

The International Transport Workers’ Federation’s seafarers’ section chair, David Heindel, has condemned South Korea’s sentencing of the Sewol ferry Captain and crew, describing the 36 year sentence handed down to Captain Lee Joon-Seok as “excessive and unjust”.

In a statement, Heindel commented that the ITF believes the sentences handed down on Tuesday, ranging from five to 36 years in prison, were emotionally-biased, driven mostly by the general public’s outrage over the events.

Captain Lee Joon-Seok received a sentence of 36 years in prison after being found guilty of gross negligence over the deaths of more than 300 people, but he was spared a death sentence after being acquitted of homicide charges. Sewol’s Chief Engineer, Park Gi Ho, was found guilty of homicide and sentenced to 30 years in prison, while thirteen other crew members were sentenced to between five and 20 years for their roles in the accident.

“The ITF believes that the judgment is based more on emotion and the need to find someone to blame than justice,” stated Heindel. “The sentencing of the captain and the other seafarers is too severe and does not take into account the actions or lack of actions by others in the industry.

“The ITF seafarers’ section committee will meet next week in to London and consider an appropriate ongoing response to this tragic matter,”

A statement Tuesday from the UK-based seafarers rights group, Seafarers’ Rights International (SRI), agreed with ITF’s comments that the judgement was emotionally driven, but stopped short of condemning sentences.

In that statement, Deirdre Fitzpatrick, Executive Director of SRI, said: “This disaster has been beset with tragedies and sadness from the beginning. The reported comments of the South Korean president Park Geun-hye in the aftermath of the disaster that the conduct of the Master and some crew was ‘like an act of murder’ will have added to the heightened emotional context and might have made it difficult for any court to be dispassionate.

“This complex judgement in which the Master and 14 crew members were convicted of various offenses, and sentenced to jail terms ranging up to 36 years, requires careful consideration before any fair comment can be made on the court proceedings, the convictions and the sentences.

“The ramifications of this case are far ranging, raising many questions regarding the circumstances of this particular ferry disaster and the ferry industry internationally. These ramifications need to be explored over the ensuing months both nationally and internationally so that lessons can be learned to prevent as far as possible a repetition of this tragedy.”

The incident is just the latest fueling the debate over criminalization of seafarers. Let us know your thoughts on the sentencing in the comments: