South Korean coastguard chief cleared over Sewol rescue operations

Kim Suk-kyoon, the former chief of the South Korean Coastguard has been cleared of negligence over errors made during the rescue operations of the Sewol shipwreck in April 2014.

Seoul Central District Court found that Kim Suk-kyoon, who led the Coastguard at the time, was not guilty in connection with the rescue efforts. The court also acquitted nine other current and former coastguard officials who had been indicted on the same charges.

The verdict stated that “it is hard to judge that the defendants’ actions constituted professional negligence”. An evacuation order was issued and was “an appropriate call of action based on information provided to the defendants”. Kim earlier apologised to the bereaved families over the accident, but he denied accusations of negligence.

The captain of the Sewol – Lee Joon-seok – was convicted of negligence and murder in 2015 and sentenced to life in prison. Other crew members were jailed for terms ranging from 18 months to 12 years.

The disaster happened on April 16th 2014 when the 6,825 gt MV Sewol was en route from Incheon towards Jeju in South Korea. Of 476 passengers and crew, 304 died, including about 250 students from Danwon High School. Of the approximately 172 survivors, more than half were rescued by fishing boats and other commercial vessels which arrived at the scene about 40 minutes before the Korea Coast Guard.

In May 2014 the captain and three crew members were charged with murder, while the other 11 members of the crew were indicted for abandoning the ship. An arrest warrant was also issued for Yoo Byung-eun, the owner of Chonghaejin Marine, but he could not be found despite a nationwide manhunt. In July 2014 the police said they had established that a dead man found in a field 258 miles south of Seoul was Yoo.