The ferry sank in 2014, causing the death of 304 people, mostly young. The captain and crew members are in jail, but the company that owned the ship and the state had managed to avoid any liability until now. Poor maintenance and overcrowding were among the causes of the disaster.
Seoul (AsiaNews) – A court in Seoul ordered the South Korean government and a shipping firm to compensate the families of the victims of the Sewol, a ferry that sank in 2014 due to negligence and overcrowding.
From the very start, the victims’ families had accused the authorities of complicity in the deadly accident, but the government had been able to avoid legal liability.
The tragedy unfolded on 16 April 2014 and shocked the entire nation. The 145-metre long, 6,825-tonne vessel first listed to one side and then capsized.
In all, 304 people died in the disaster, mostly high school students on a trip. The causes of the sinking were overcrowding, poor maintenance and an inexperienced crew.
Some survivors said they did not receive any help from the crew or the Coast Guard, even when the boat was sinking.
At the trial in November 2014of the ship captain and crew members, the court sentenced the 15 defendants to terms ranging from 20 to 36 years in prison.
However, nothing was said about the cause of the ship sinking nor about responsibilities of the company that owned the Sewol, which was close to then South Korean President Park Geun-hye.
"The court acknowledges the liability in compensating the plaintiffs, since the negligence by the state and Cheonghaejin Marine Co. has resulted in the occurrence of the accident," it said in its ruling.
The court awarded 200 million won (US$ 177,000) in compensation for each deceased passenger and 40 million won to parents of students who lost their lives in the tragedy. It also awarded 5 million to 20 million won to the siblings and grandparents of the deceased.
During his apostolic trip to South Korea for Asian Youth Day in 2014, Pope Francis expressed his closeness to the families of the victims. On this occasion, he met relatives (pictured), and called for "truth and justice".
The pontiff also baptised the father of one of the students who died in the disaster, who chose "Francis" as his name.