SEOUL, Nov. 12 (UPI) -- South Korea's Supreme Court upheld a life sentence for the captain of the capsized ferry Sewol that killed 304 people, mostly high school students on a field trip. But victims' families spent Thursday mourning the deaths of their loved ones on a day when they would have taken the nationwide college entrance exams.
Lee Jun-seok, the ferry's captain, received an earlier prison sentence of 36 years, but on Thursday Korea's top court upheld a life sentence for Lee for failing to notify passengers to evacuate the sinking ship, Yonhap reported.
"While he could have easily informed the passengers of the urgent situation and reduced the number of casualties, Lee fled the ferry without doing so," Chief Justice Yang Seung-tae said.
Yang said Lee also did not tell South Korea Coast Guard of the situation on board, "being totally indifferent to the passengers' safety."
The court said Lee's actions amounted to an act of murder, because as captain he holds "comprehensive and absolute authority" of movements on the ship.
Families, still grieving for their lost sons and daughters, said the conviction was "necessary...for those crew members who escaped from the sinking boat, without paying the least effort possible to save the passengers."
The verdict was announced on the same day victims' families set up a memorial to the 250 students of Danwon High School who perished on the ship. On Thursday, the 72 surviving seniors of Danwon High took the nationwide college entrance exam alongside their peers, South Korean newspaper Hankyoreh reported.
Kim Young-oh, a father and Sewol activist who interviewed with UPI in March, tweeted Thursday that the students who died, including his daughter Yu-min, were "cheering their friends from heaven...even though [she] could not take the exams today."
The memorial in central Seoul was an installation of more than 200 backpacks that belonged to the deceased.