The address by Kim Jong Un was his third televised New Year’s speech as leader of the country.
Kim Han-sik's sentence was the toughest penalty handed down to anyone other than the ferry’s crew.
The court found him guilty of negligence, but acquitted him of homicide.
A three-judge panel in the southern city of Gwangju will hand down verdicts and sentencing on Tuesday.
The two sides agreed to reopen dialogue amid a flurry of diplomatic activity which has raised hopes.
Prosecutors in the port city of Incheon said the driver, Yang Hoe-jung, turned himself in at their office.