SEOUL — South Korean prosecutors on Thursday charged the captain and three crew members of sunken ferry the Sewol with murder for abandoning the ship without even trying to evacuate its 476 passengers.
Captain Lee Joon-seok, 68, and the ship's chief engineer and chief and second mates are accused of leaving the sinking ship last month while telling passengers to stay in their cabins, according to Yonhap news.
While the captain and most of the crew were rescued, the 6,825-ton ferry - on its way to the southern resort island of Jeju - continued to list and gradually disappeared underwater off the country's southwest coast. The official death toll stood at 281 on Thursday, with 23 people still missing.
Most of those on board were high school students on an excursion.
Charges of violating the marine accident rescue law and death by negligence were also brought Thursday against 11 other crew. If convicted, all 15 charged could face life in prison.
The government on Monday honored three other Sewol crewmembers who remained on board and lost their lives saving others. Jung Hyun-seok and Kim Ki-woong had been due to marry later this year, while Park Ji-young was the youngest of the crew at 22 years old.
By being officially named "martyrs," they will be granted burials at a national cemetery and their families will be eligible for financial and medical support.