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The `murderer` captain

Posted April. 29, 2015 07:22,   


The Costa Concordia, an Italian luxury liner, crashed into rocks near the Italian island of Giglio in 2012, killing 32 lives. Francesco Schettino, the captain, was accused of abandoning the ship with passengers on board. He was sentenced to 16 years and one month in prison in March this year. According to media reports, he was found guilty of manslaughter, not murder.

Lee Jun-seok, the captain of the doomed ferry Sewol, was found guilty of murder in the second trial on Tuesday. The court saw he committed homicide by willful negligence because he fled the ship without making any evacuation order, saying, “His act is like a person in charge fleeing a high-rise building on fire in a helicopter first or the only nightshift doctor in a hospital escaping the hospital.” The captain was sentenced to 36 years in prison in the first ruling but life imprisonment in the second ruling.

It is unusual to convict a person on murder charges even if the accident claims many lives. Some legal professionals argue that the first ruling is right while others say that the ruling of the court of appeals is right. The captain of the Namyoung ferry whose sinking claimed 326 lives in 1970 was accused of homicide charges but was acquitted. The court said, “Although the ship was heavily loaded, the captain himself was on board. In this regard, it can be hardly seen that he committed homicide by willful negligence.” The Namyoung ferry was capsized after it was hit hard by waves three times and the captain had no time to rescue passengers on board. In contrast, the captain of the Sewol ferry had 80 minutes to save lives until the ship rolled to 80 degrees.

The Korean criminal code has homicide only. Germany distinguishes Mord (murder) from Totschlag (manslaughter). The former is a planned killing while the latter is an inadvertent killing. It is like first degree murder and second degree murder in the U.S. The Korean penal code is not designed to prevent large disasters in modern society. It needs to break down homicide in details, instead of abusing an “ambiguous” willful negligence.