Lee Jun-seok, along with three crew members -- Kang Won-sik, Kim Young-ho and Park Gi-ho -- were indicted for murder. Eleven other crew members were charged with lesser offenses.
The four were accused of leaving the ship without making any serious effort to rescue the passengers, who were ordered to stay aboard the 6,825-ton vessel. Senior prosecutor Ahn Sang-don said Thursday the four thought only "of their own lives" and "did not exercise their duty of aid and relief."
The sinking of the ferry Sewol left 284 confirmed dead and 20 missing, and the alleged behavior of the indicted captain and indicted crew members outraged many in South Korea. High school students on a school trip accounted for 250 of the dead and missing.
In court, prosecutors said the ship was carrying twice the legal limit of cargo, improperly secured, and to accommodate the cargo, tons of ballast water was pumped from the ship, compromising its stability.
The ship lost its balance and tipped over while making a particularly sharp turn in rapids-prone water. At the time, the least experienced of the crew members was handling the ship's navigation, with the captain in his room, prosecutors said.
The four could face the death penalty if convicted of the charges.