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SEOUL, South Korea — Prosecutors indicted the captain of the sunken South Korean ferry and three crew members on homicide charges Thursday, alleging they were negligent and failed to protect more than 300 people missing or dead in the disaster.

Less serious indictments have been issued against the 11 other crew members responsible for navigating the vessel.

Capt. Lee Joon-seok, a first mate, a second mate and the chief engineer could face the death penalty if convicted. No one has been executed in South Korea since 1997.

The 15 indicted crew members were among the first group of people rescued when the ferry began badly listing April 16, and all were arrested last month.


Lee initially told passengers to stay in their cabins and took about half an hour to issue an evacuation order but it’s not known if his message was ever conveyed to passengers.

In a video taken by the coast guard, he was seen escaping the ferry to a rescue boat while many passengers were still in the sinking ship.