Head of South Korean ferry operator sentenced to 10 years in jail over April sinking

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SEOUL, South Korea — A South Korean court sentenced the head of a ferry operator to 10 years in prison Thursday over an April ship sinking that killed more than 300 people, mostly teenage students.

Kim Han-sik, president of Chonghaejin Marine Co. Ltd, also received a 2 million won ($1,800) fine for failing to stop the improper storage and overloaded cargo on the ship that judges ruled contributed to the sinking, the Gwangju District Court said in a statement.

Four other Chonghaejin officials were sentenced to three to six years in prison on similar charges, and two other company employees got suspended prison sentences, according to a court verdict.

An official from the Korea Shipping Association, which oversees safety issues of ships, was sentenced to three years in prison for allowing the ferry to leave a port near Seoul without checking its cargo and storage, the verdict said. Two employees at a private company that loaded the ship both received a two-year prison term, it said.

More than seven months after the ferry Sewol sank on its way to a southern resort island, the country is still grappling with the aftermath of the disaster that exposed serious shortcomings in public safety and sparked fierce political wrangling. Officials blame crew members' negligence, overloaded cargo, improper storage, unprofessional rescue works and corruption by the ship's owners for the incident.

The Gwangju court last week sentenced the 15 navigational crew members from five to 36 years in prison.

Divers recovered 295 bodies from the wreckage before the government stopped underwater searches last week. Nine victims remain missing.

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