Vessel monitoring officials acquitted of negligence over ferry sinking
SEOUL, Nov. 27 (Yonhap) -- The nation's top court ruled on Friday that vessel monitoring officials should not be criminally punished for their failure to properly monitor the ferry Sewol when it sank off South Korea's southwest coast.
Upholding a lower court ruling, the Supreme Court acquitted the chief of the Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) in Jindo Island, located near the site of the sinking, and 12 of his subordinates of negligence charges.
The ferry sinking of April 16, 2014, claimed more than 300 lives, mostly high school students on a school trip.
Prosecutors later found that it took as long as 18 minutes before the VTS center contacted the Sewol crew members, wasting time to save more people, because only one official was working on the night of the sinking, instead of two. The officials were supposed to have been working in pairs during a night shift.
The court, however, found all 13 officials, including the center chief, not guilty of the negligence charges, saying they did not have any intention to not perform their duties, though their actions could taken for laziness.
"In principle, laziness is in the boundary of disciplinary action within the work place, not subject to criminal punishment," a court official said.
Except for the chief, the 12 officials were confirmed for monetary penalties over falsifying records of their working hours, pretending as if they had been working as a team of two.
Currently, a Chinese consortium led by China's state-run Shanghai Salvage is leading the 85.1 billion won (US$72 million) project to recover the ship.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court upheld a life sentence for the captain of the ferry for murdering the passengers aboard, after willfully neglecting his duty to help them evacuate.