The Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that sentenced Lee Joon-seok, 70, to life imprisonment for charges that included homicide, said a court official, who didn't want to be named, citing office rules.
    
The court ruled Lee committed homicide by 'willful negligence,' concluding he fled his ship without giving an evacuation order although, as captain, he is required by law to take measures to save his passengers.
    
A total of 304 people died when the ferry Sewol sank off South Korea's southwest coast in April 2014 in one of the country's deadliest maritime disasters. Most of the victims were from a single high school. Lee and his crew members been the targets of fierce public anger because they were among the first people rescued from the ship when it began badly listing on the day it sank.
    
Lee has said he issued an evacuation order, but many student survivors have said that they were repeatedly ordered over a loudspeaker to stay on the sinking ferry and that they didn't remember any evacuation orders by crew members before they escaped.
    
Divers recovered 295 bodies from the ship's wreckage and nearby seas before the government stopped underwater searches in November last year. Nine victims remain missing. The tragedy touched off an outpouring of national grief and soul-searching about public safety. The relatives of the victims, angry that higher-level officials haven't been held accountable, have been calling for a stronger investigation into the government's responsibility for the disaster, which was blamed in part on official incompetence and corruption.
    
South Korea is now paying USD 74 million to a consortium led by China's state-run Shanghai Salvage Co. to handle the difficult job of salvaging the 6,800-ton Sewol. The government expects the ship to be raised by around July. The relatives of the ferry victims hope that raising the ship will help find the missing nine bodies and reveal what caused the ferry to sink.

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