THE captain of the South Korean ferry that capsized in April killing around 300 people told a court yesterday he was just following practice in not making safety checks before the vessel set off.

Lee Joon-seok, aged 68, appeared at times disoriented and unable to properly understand questions when he took the stand for the first time in the court in Gwangju that is trying him and three crew members for homicide.

The overloaded ferry Sewol capsized and sank on a routine voyage, causing an outpouring of grief as well as outrage at President Park Geun-hye's government for what was seen by many as a botched rescue operation.

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Lee was among 15 crew members accused of abandoning the sharply listing ferry after telling the passengers, most of them school children on a trip to the holiday island of Jeju, to stay put in their cabins.

Asked why he did not make thorough checks to ensure the cargo and num-ber of passengers was within the limits his ship could carry, he said: "It's been the custom."