The captain and crew of the ferry Sewol, who fled the sinking ship and left hundreds of passengers behind to drown, went on trial on Tuesday. They appeared in a court in the southwestern city of Gwangju 56 days after the tragic accident.
Captain Lee Joon-seok (69) and 14 other crewmembers were among the first to escape the sinking ship after telling passengers to stay put.
They will have a much harder time escaping punishment. Prosecutors have accused Lee, his chief navigator, assistant navigator and chief engineer of murder, attempted murder and violating safety regulations.
Prosecutors said the captain and crew, who are responsible for the safety of the passengers, committed murder by omission by fleeing the sinking vessel when they were fully aware of the danger passengers faced. They could face the death sentence.
But the four deny charges of willful negligence.
The other 10 crewmembers of the ferry, who are accused of abandonment and professional negligence resulting in death, also denied the charges against them.
The court room was packed with some 170 people including relatives of victims of the ferry disaster as well as the families of the accused.
The next trial date has been set for June 17, and the case is expected to take until November.