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Sewol Disaster: South Korea Jails Captain of Doomed Ferry for Life

SEOUL, South Korea — The South Korean ferry captain responsible for last year's disaster that killed more than 300 people, mostly school children, was given an increased sentence of life in prison Tuesday by an appellate court that convicted him of homicide.

A district court in November had sentenced Lee Joon-seok to 36 years in prison for negligence and abandoning passengers in need but acquitted him of homicide. Victims' relatives criticized the verdict at the time, saying it was too lenient. Prosecutors earlier had demanded the death penalty for Lee.

Lee's sentence was increased because the Gwangju High Court convicted him of the homicide charges while upholding most of other charges that led to his November conviction, according to a court statement. Lee committed "homicide by willful negligence" because he fled the ship without making any evacuation order though he, as a captain, is required by law to take some measures to rescue his passengers, the statement said.

"For whatever excuses, it's difficult to forgive Lee Joon-seok's action that caused a big tragedy," the court statement cited the verdict as saying. The appellate court sentenced 14 other navigation crew members to 18 months to 12 years in prison, the statement said. In November they had received sentences of five to 30 years in prison. Court spokesman Jeon Ilho said both prosecutors and the crew members have one week to appeal the verdicts.

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— The Associated Press