Prosecutors have called for the death penalty in the trial of Lee Jun-seok on Monday. He captained the 6,825-ton South Korean “Sewol” when it capsized in April, The Wall Street Journal reports.
When the ferry began to roll, Lee told passengers to remain in their cabins and wait for assistance, which resulted in the deaths of 300 of the 476 passengers on board. Lee and other senior crew members were among the first to be rescued by the South Korean coast guard.
Eleven other former “Sewol” crew members face criminal negligence charges; the trial illustrated that while they were aware their lack of action would result in death, no one elected to help passengers trapped below deck. Several were seen drinking beer while waiting to be rescued.
The prosecution noted that, “a captain isn’t supposed to abandon his ship until everyone else is off of it. Lee Jun-seok bears the most direct burden of responsibility.”
The captain tearfully expressed that he did not intend for anyone to die, but ultimately claimed responsibility for the incident:
“I am sorry. I’ve committed a crime for which I should die. I will beg for forgiveness until the day I die. May the victims rest in peace.”
Despite the incident’s death count, the call for Lee’s execution is still surprising.
South Korea has a de facto moratorium on the death penalty — the last executions occurred in 1997 — and the call for his death stems from the immense social pressure surrounding the case.
Judges are set to sentence the captain, and the other 11 crew members, on Nov. 11.