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Ex-coast guard officer in S. Korea guilty over ferry sinking

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    South Korea rescue helicopter and fishing boats try to rescue passengers from a passenger ship in water off the southern coast in South Korea, Wednesday, April 16, 2014.
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SEOUL, South Korea >> A South Korean court on Wednesday sentenced a former coast guard officer to four years in prison for negligence while rescuing of passengers during last year’s ferry sinking that killed more than 300 people.

Kim Kyung-il was the captain of the first coast guard ship dispatched to the scene on the day of the April 16 sinking. Slow and unprofessional rescue work by the coast guard has been considered as one of the reasons for the disaster, together with ferry crew members’ negligence, overloaded cargo, improper storage and corruption by the ferry’s owners.

Most of the dead were students on a school trip.

The Gwangju District Court said in its verdict that the death toll would have been lower if Kim had broadcast an evacuation order for those trapped inside the sinking ship after his arrival at the area.

The verdict said Kim was convicted of fabricating official documents and falsely stating in them that he had issued an evacuation order. In the days after the sinking, Kim said in media interviews that his ship issued a broadcast urging people to stay out of the ferry and jump to the water.

The sinking, one of the deadliest disasters in South Korean history, triggered an outpouring of national grief, and pointed questions about public safety.

In November, the same court handed down a 36-year prison term to the sunken ferry’s captain and sentenced 14 other navigation crew members to five to 30 years in prison.

The ship’s billionaire owner was found dead after fleeing arrest, and his son and two brothers were sentenced to up to three years in prison for corruption. South Korean also disbanded the coast guard and launched a new safety agency. Kim has been working at a local maritime police station under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Public Safety and Security, according to ministry officials.

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