S. Korean ferry captain gets 36 years in prison

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S. Korean ferry captain gets 36 years in prison
JINDO-GUN, SOUTH KOREA - APRIL 15: (CHINA OUT, SOUTH KOREA OUT) Relatives of victims of the Sewol ferry disaster weep as they stand on the deck of a boat during a visit to the site of the sunken ferry on April 15, 2015 in Jindo-gun, South Korea. The ferry Sewol carrying 476 passengers, including 325 school children, capsized off of Jindo Island in South Korea on April 16, 2014 resulting in 304 dead and missing. (Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
JINDO-GUN, SOUTH KOREA - APRIL 16: In this screen shot handout of helicopter camera provided by the Republic of Korea Coat Guard, the ferry is seen sinking as the rescue work continues off the coast of Jindo Island on April 16, 2014 in Jindo-gun, South Korea. Two people are dead, and more than ninety are missing as reported. The ferry identified as the Sewol was carrying about 470 passengers, including the students and teachers, traveling to Jeju island. (Photo by Handout/The Republic of Korea Coast Guard via Getty Images)
JINDO-GUN, SOUTH KOREA - APRIL 15: (CHINA OUT, SOUTH KOREA OUT) Relatives of victims of the Sewol ferry disaster weep as they attend a memorial prior to a visit to the site of the sunken ferry on April 15, 2015 in Jindo-gun, South Korea. The ferry Sewol carrying 476 passengers, including 325 school children, capsized off of Jindo Island in South Korea on April 16, 2014 resulting in 304 dead and missing. (Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
South Korean coast guards and rescue workers are seen at the accident site of the capsized South Korean ferry Sewol in Jindo on April 22, 2014. The confirmed death toll in South Korea's ferry disaster crossed 100, but almost twice that number remained unaccounted for nearly a week into the rescue and recovery effort. AFP PHOTO / Nicolas ASFOURI (Photo credit should read NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images)
JINDO-GUN, SOUTH KOREA - APRIL 15: (CHINA OUT, SOUTH KOREA OUT) Relatives of victims of the Sewol ferry disaster weep as they stand on the deck of a boat during a visit to the site of the sunken ferry on April 15, 2015 in Jindo-gun, South Korea. The ferry Sewol carrying 476 passengers, including 325 school children, capsized off of Jindo Island in South Korea on April 16, 2014 resulting in 304 dead and missing. (Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
JINDO-GUN, SOUTH KOREA - APRIL 16: In this screen shot handout of helicopter camera provided by the Republic of Korea Coat Guard, the ferry is seen sinking as the rescue work continues off the coast of Jindo Island on April 16, 2014 in Jindo-gun, South Korea. Two people are dead, and more than ninety are missing as reported. The ferry identified as the Sewol was carrying about 470 passengers, including the students and teachers, traveling to Jeju island. (Photo by The Republic of Korea Coast Guard via Getty Images)
Relatives of victims of the Sewol ferry disaster weep as they stand on the deck of a boat during a visit to the site of the sunken ferry off the coast of South Korea's southern island of Jindo on April 15, 2015. More than 100 relatives of victims of South Korea's Sewol ferry disaster tearfully cast flowers into the sea at an emotional memorial event on the eve of the tragedy's first anniversary. AFP PHOTO / POOL / Ed Jones (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
JINDO-GUN, SOUTH KOREA - APRIL 15: Relatives of victims of the Sewol ferry disaster weep as they stand on the deck of a boat during a visit to the site of the sunken ferry on April 15, 2015 in Jindo-gun, South Korea. The ferry Sewol carrying 476 passengers, including 325 school children, capsized off of Jindo Island in South Korea on April 16, 2014 resulting in 304 dead and missing. (Photo by Ed Jones - Pool/Getty Images)
JINDO-GUN, SOUTH KOREA - APRIL 15: Relatives of victims of the Sewol ferry disaster weep as they stand on the deck of a boat during a visit to the site of the sunken ferry on April 15, 2015 in Jindo-gun, South Korea. The ferry Sewol carrying 476 passengers, including 325 school children, capsized off of Jindo Island in South Korea on April 16, 2014 resulting in 304 dead and missing. (Photo by Ed Jones - Pool/Getty Images)
JINDO-GUN, SOUTH KOREA - APRIL 15: A relative of victims of the Sewol ferry disaster weeps as she and others stand on the deck of a boat during a visit to the site of the sunken ferry on April 15, 2015 in Jindo-gun, South Korea. The ferry Sewol carrying 476 passengers, including 325 school children, capsized off of Jindo Island in South Korea on April 16, 2014 resulting in 304 dead and missing. (Photo by Ed Jones - Pool/Getty Images)
Coastguard boats and search and rescue teams take part in recovery operations at night at the site of the 'Sewol' ferry, off the coast of the South Korean island of Jindo on April 24, 2014. The confirmed death toll from South Korea's ferry disaster rose sharply to more than 120 on April 22 as divers speeded up the grim task of recovering bodies from the submerged ship and police took two more of its crew into custody. AFP PHOTO/ Nicolas ASFOURI (Photo credit should read NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images)
Sewol ferry captain Lee Jun-Seok (C) is escorted after arriving at a courthouse in Gwangju on November 11, 2014. After five months of dramatic, often painful testimony, a South Korean court will deliver its verdict -- and possible death sentence -- on the ferry captain at the centre of one of the country's worst peacetime disasters. AFP PHOTO / Ed Jones (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
Sewol ferry crew members (centre R) inside a a court room in Gwangju at the start of the verdict proceedings on November 11, 2014. After five months of dramatic, often painful testimony, a South Korean court will deliver its verdict -- and possible death sentence -- on the ferry captain at the centre of one of the country's worst peacetime disasters. AFP PHOTO / POOL / Ed Jones (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
Sewol ferry captain Lee Jun-Seok (6th R) sits with other crew members inside a a court room in Gwangju at the start of the verdict proceedings on November 11, 2014. After five months of dramatic, often painful testimony, a South Korean court will deliver its verdict -- and possible death sentence -- on the ferry captain at the centre of one of the country's worst peacetime disasters. AFP PHOTO / POOL / Ed Jones (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
Sewol ferry crew members (C) inside a a court room in Gwangju at the start of the verdict proceedings on November 11, 2014. After five months of dramatic, often painful testimony, a South Korean court will deliver its verdict -- and possible death sentence -- on the ferry captain at the centre of one of the country's worst peacetime disasters. AFP PHOTO / POOL / Ed Jones (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
Sewol ferry captain Lee Jun-Seok (3rd R) sits with other crew members inside a a court room in Gwangju at the start of the verdict proceedings on November 11, 2014. After five months of dramatic, often painful testimony, a South Korean court will deliver its verdict -- and possible death sentence -- on the ferry captain at the centre of one of the country's worst peacetime disasters. AFP PHOTO / POOL / Ed Jones (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
Sewol ferry captain Lee Joon-Seok (C) is escorted upon his arrival at the Gwangju District Court in the southwestern South Korean city of Gwangju on June 24, 2014. Lee Joon-Seok and three crew members are accused of 'homicide through wilful negligence' -- a charge that falls between first-degree murder and manslaughter, but still carries the death penalty. Eleven other members of the crew are being tried on lesser charges of criminal negligence and violations of maritime law. The Sewol was carrying 476 passengers, including 325 students on a school trip, when it sank off the southwest coast on April 16. AFP PHOTO / WONSUK CHOI (Photo credit should read Wonsuk Choi/AFP/Getty Images)
Relatives of victims of the 'Sewol' ferry confront vice police chief Choi Sang Han (C) after they forcibly removed him from an office at Jindo harbour on April 24, 2014. The confirmed death toll on April 24 stood at 171, but 131 were still missing as dive teams searched in near pitch-black conditions for bodies trapped in the ferry's interior. AFP PHOTO / NICOLAS ASFOURI (Photo credit should read NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images)
Relatives of victims of the 'Sewol' ferry confront vice police chief Choi Sang Han (C) as they forcibly remove him from an office at Jindo harbour on April 24, 2014. The confirmed death toll on April 24 stood at 171, but 131 were still missing as dive teams searched in near pitch-black conditions for bodies trapped in the ferry's interior. AFP PHOTO / ED JONES (Photo credit should read NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images)
Relatives of victims of the 'Sewol' ferry confront vice police chief Choi Sang Han (centre L) as they forcibly remove him from an office at Jindo harbour on April 24, 2014. The confirmed death toll on April 24 stood at 171, but 131 were still missing as dive teams searched in near pitch-black conditions for bodies trapped in the ferry's interior. AFP PHOTO / NICOLAS ASFOURI (Photo credit should read NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images)
Relatives of victims of the 'Sewol' ferry confront vice police chief Choi Sang Han (C) as they forcibly remove him from an office at Jindo harbour on April 24, 2014. The confirmed death toll on April 24 stood at 171, but 131 were still missing as dive teams searched in near pitch-black conditions for bodies trapped in the ferry's interior. AFP PHOTO / NICOLAS ASFOURI (Photo credit should read NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images)
Relatives of victims of the 'Sewol' ferry express their frustration as they surround police officer Choi Sang Han (C) after forcibly removing him from an office at Jindo harbour on April 24, 2014. The confirmed death toll from South Korea's ferry disaster crossed 100 on April 22, as dive teams, under growing pressure from bereaved relatives, accelerated the grim task of recovering hundreds more bodies from the submerged vessel. AFP PHOTO / ED JONES (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
People attend a memorial for the victims of the sunken South Korean ferry 'Sewol' at the Ansan Olympic memorial hall on April 24, 2014. The confirmed death toll stood at 171, but 131 were still missing as dive teams searched in near pitch-black conditions for bodies trapped in the ferry's interior. AFP PHOTO/ KIM DOO-HO (Photo credit should read KIM DOO-HO/AFP/Getty Images)
People attend a memorial for the victims of the sunken South Korean ferry 'Sewol' at the Ansan Olympic memorial hall on April 24, 2014. The confirmed death toll stood at 171, but 131 were still missing as dive teams searched in near pitch-black conditions for bodies trapped in the ferry's interior. AFP PHOTO/ KIM DOO-HO (Photo credit should read KIM DOO-HO/AFP/Getty Images)
Coastguards ride a boat during recovery operations at the site of the 'Sewol' ferry, off the coast of the South Korean island of Jindo on April 24, 2014. The confirmed death toll from South Korea's ferry disaster rose sharply to more than 120 on April 22 as divers speeded up the grim task of recovering bodies from the submerged ship and police took two more of its crew into custody. AFP PHOTO/ Nicolas ASFOURI (Photo credit should read NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images)
Coastguard police chief Kim Seouk Gyun (bottom C), vice coastguard police chief Choi Sang Han (bottom R), and South Korean minister of Oceans and Fisheries Lee Ju Young (bottom L) attend a meeting with relatives of victims of the 'Sewol' ferry at Jindo harbour on April 24, 2014. The confirmed death toll from South Korea's ferry disaster crossed 100 on April 22, as dive teams, under growing pressure from bereaved relatives, accelerated the grim task of recovering hundreds more bodies from the submerged vessel. AFP PHOTO / ED JONES (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
ANSAN, SOUTH KOREA - APRIL 23: Students and citizens hold candles as they pray for the safe return of missing passengers who were travelling aboard south Korean ferry the Sewol, which sank off the coast of Jindo Island, on April 23, 2014 in Ansan, South Korea. The confirmed death toll is reported to have risen to 150, with more than 150 people still missing. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
Relatives of a passenger on board the capsized South Korean ferry Sewol weep at an area where family members of victims of the disaster are gathered at Jindo harbour on April 22, 2014. The confirmed death toll from South Korea's ferry disaster crossed 100, as dive teams, under growing pressure from bereaved relatives, accelerated the grim task of recovering hundreds more bodies from the submerged vessel. AFP PHOTO / Nicolas ASFOURI (Photo credit should read NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images)
A man looks at flowers and messages at a makeshift memorial at the main gate of Danwon high school in Ansan on April 21, 2014 where many of the schoolchildren missing from the sunken South Korean ferry 'Sewol' attended. The captain and crew of the South Korean ferry that capsized last week with hundreds of children on board acted in a way 'tantamount to murder,' President Park Guen-Hye said on April 21, as four more crew members were arrested. AFP PHOTO / KIM DOO-HO (Photo credit should read KIM DOO-HO/AFP/Getty Images)
JINDO-GUN, SOUTH KOREA - APRIL 21: Rescue workers carry a victim of the sunken ferry off the coast of Jindo Island on April 21, 2014 in Jindo-gun, South Korea. At least sixty four people are reported dead, with 238 still missing. The ferry identified as the Sewol was carrying about 470 passengers, including the students and teachers, traveling to Jeju Island. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
South Korean rescue members carry the body of a victim recovered from the 'Sewol' ferry to an ambulance at a harbour in Jindo on April 22, 2014. The confirmed death toll from South Korea's ferry disaster crossed 100 on April 22, as dive teams, under growing pressure from bereaved relatives, accelerated the grim task of recovering hundreds more bodies from the submerged vessel. AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
JINDO-GUN, SOUTH KOREA - APRIL 16: In this screen shot handout of helicopter camera provided by the Republic of Korea Coat Guard, the ferry is seen sinking off as the rescue work continues the coast of Jindo Island on April 16, 2014 in Jindo-gun, South Korea. Two people are dead, and more than ninety are missing as reported. The ferry identified as the Sewol was carrying about 470 passengers, including the students and teachers, traveling to Jeju island. (Photo by The Republic of Korea Coast Guard via Getty Images)
Flares light up the sea for search and rescue teams during recovery operations at the site of the 'Sewol' ferry of the coast of the South Korean island on Jindo on April 22, 2014. Divers began to locate bodies on April 19 inside a submerged South Korean ferry as the detained captain defended his decision to delay evacuation of the ship when it capsized nearly four days ago with 476 people on board. AFP PHOTO / ED JONES (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- A South Korean court on Tuesday handed a 36-year prison sentence to the captain of a sunken ferry, saying he was professionally negligent and abandoned his passengers during the disaster in April that killed more than 300 people.

The chief engineer got 30 years, and 13 other crew members were sentenced to up to 20 years in prison, Yonhap news agency and other South Korean media reported, citing the Gwangju District Court in southern South Korea.

Capt. Lee Joon-seok and three other key crew members were earlier indicted by prosecutors on homicide and other charges. Eleven others faced less serious charges.

Captain of Sunken South Korean Ferry Gets 36 Years in Prison

Lee has apologized for abandoning the passengers, but said he didn't know his action would lead to so many deaths.

The widely vilified Lee could have received a death sentence for the homicide charges. South Korea hasn't executed anyone since late 1997, though its courts occasionally issue the punishment.

Prosecutors and the crew members have one week to appeal, according to the court.

Court officials didn't immediately answer calls seeking confirmation.

The 15 crew members tasked with navigating the ferry Sewol have faced scathing public criticism because they escaped the sinking ship while many of their passengers were still trapped inside. A total of 476 people were aboard the ship and only 172 were rescued. Most of the dead were teenage students traveling to a resort island on a school trip.

Nearly seven months after the sinking, 295 bodies have been recovered but nine are still missing. South Korean officials said Tuesday they've ended searches for the missing because there was only a remote chance of finding more bodies while worries have grown over the safety of divers. Two civilian divers have died after falling unconscious during searches.

"As our loved ones remain trapped in the cold waters, this decision is unbearably painful for us. But we requested that the search operations be stopped" because of safety concerns, Min Dong-im, 36, the wife of a missing teacher, tearfully said at a televised news conference.

The Sewol's sinking, one of the country's deadliest disasters in decades, led to widespread national grief and soul-searching. Authorities blamed overloaded cargo, improper storage, untimely recuse efforts and corruption by the ship's owners that prevented enough spending on safety, along with the crew members' behavior.

Last Friday, South Korean lawmakers approved plans to disband the coast guard and transfer its responsibilities to other government agencies. The coast guard was criticized for unprofessional, slow rescue efforts. Also last week, three relatives of the ship's billionaire owner were sentenced to up to three years in prison, about four months after the tycoon was found dead after he fled the law.

Prosecutors have accused the crew members of tacitly colluding to abandon the ship even though they knew that passengers would be trapped and killed after it sank. The defense in the trial has denied any collusion among the crew members, saying they were confused, injured and panicked.

Many student survivors have said they were repeatedly ordered over a loudspeaker to stay on the sinking ship and that they didn't remember any evacuation order being given before they helped each other flee the vessel.

Lee has said he issued an evacuation order for passengers. But he initially told reporters days after his arrest that he withheld the evacuation order because rescuers had yet to arrive and he feared for the passengers' safety in the cold, swift waters.

South Korea has spent months debating public safety issues that critics say were largely ignored while the country rose to an Asian economic power in the decades after the 1950-53 Korean War. But there have been a series of smaller deadly accidents since the sinking. In mid-October, for instance, 16 people watching an outdoor pop concert fell 20 meters (60 feet) to their deaths when a ventilation grate they were standing on collapsed.

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