Korea ferry accused get court-appointed lawyer

SEOUL, April 24 Thu Apr 24, 2014 2:21am EDT

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SEOUL, April 24 (Reuters) - The captain and two crew of a South Korean ferry that sank last week have a state appointed attorney to represent them as they face charges of negligence relating to the deaths of hundreds of passengers.

Captain Lee Joon-seok, 69, and two other crew members who abandoned ship have been arrested on negligence charges.

Their actions have been called "tantamount to murder" by South Korean President Park Geun-hye as the emotionally charged investigation and recovery of hundreds of bodies - many of them children from a single school - continues.

Four of the crew were paraded in front of Korean television cameras on Thursday and apologised for their actions in leaving the sinking vessel while passengers were still on board.

The three main suspects, the captain, a third mate and the helmsmen, have also apologised, according to a source who is directly familiar with the legal proceedings, but have not admitted liability.

According to the source, the three were asked whether they wanted to get their own lawyers, but did not take up the offer. It was not immediately known why.

The lawyer appointed by the state had talked to the crew members for an hour ahead of a hearing to determine the validity of the warrant against them, the source said.

The source declined to be named due to the legal proceedings and the controversial nature of the case.

Kim & Chang, one of South Korea's largest law firms, has said it had been retained by Chonghaejin Marine, the company that operated the ferry.

"Yes, we are assisting the owners," attorney Chung Byung-suk told Reuters from Seoul.

The owners have not been indicted but have been served with bans from leaving the country. (Reporting by Joyce Lee in SEOUL and Keith Wallis in SINGAPORE; Writing by David Chance; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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