7 years after Sewol ferry disaster, harrowing losses still remembered - Korea Times
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7 years after Sewol ferry disaster, harrowing losses still remembered

Family members of the victims of Sewol ferry disaster in 2014 mourn on waters near Jindo County, South Jeolla Province, where the accident happened, Friday. The day marked the seventh anniversary of the tragedy. Yonhap
Family members of the victims of Sewol ferry disaster in 2014 mourn on waters near Jindo County, South Jeolla Province, where the accident happened, Friday. The day marked the seventh anniversary of the tragedy. Yonhap

Families of victims of the Sewol ferry disaster returned Friday to the unforgiving sea that swallowed their loved ones seven years ago, a disaster that overturned their lives and left a lasting scar for the nation.

Onboard a ship rocking in choppy waters off the southwestern tip of the country, they cried as they mourned the victims, with the painful memories still fresh.

Seven years ago on the day, the 6,825-ton ferry, carrying 476 passengers en route to the resort island of Jeju, capsized off the coast of Jindo Island. The incident, one of the country's worst peacetime disasters, killed 304 people, including 250 high school kids and 11 teachers on a school field trip.

"This year's anniversary feels all the more special, as the day of the week and the weather are the same as those from the accident day," Lee Yong-ki, the father of Lee Jin-ho, a high school kid who was killed in the disaster, said. "I can't help but feel a lump in my throat."

People watch names of the victims of Sewol ferry disaster that are inscribed on a monument at Gwanghwamun Square in Seoul's Jongno District, Friday. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul
People watch names of the victims of Sewol ferry disaster that are inscribed on a monument at Gwanghwamun Square in Seoul's Jongno District, Friday. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

"We haven't been able to find the truth behind the Sewol incident and it is still ongoing," he said, imploring the government to get to the bottom of the disaster.

Following the disaster, a huge public outcry erupted over the Park Geun-hye government's incompetent, botched rescue operations. The sinking of the passenger ship was broadcast live across the nation, traumatizing people who felt helpless and angry over the painfully slow rescue operations.

It led to the resignation of a prime minister, criminal convictions for maritime officials and the ferry's captain, followed by investigations seeking the root cause of the accident and answers to various suspicions.

During the memorial ceremony, the families threw flowers into the water and paid silent tribute, as Lee called out the names of each student victim.

Some kept shouting, "I love you," and others collapsed on the deck and wailed. Families cuddled together to comfort each other over their unfathomable losses.

The central government officials lay flowers in front of wreaths that commemorate the Sewol ferry tragedy's victims at Incheon Family Park in Incheon's Bupyeong District, Friday, during the seventh anniversary of the accident. Courtesy of Ministry of the Interior and Safety
The central government officials lay flowers in front of wreaths that commemorate the Sewol ferry tragedy's victims at Incheon Family Park in Incheon's Bupyeong District, Friday, during the seventh anniversary of the accident. Courtesy of Ministry of the Interior and Safety

"I had been afraid to come near the waters of the incident for a while, but I came here today because Yoo-min stopped appearing in my dreams," said Kim Young-oh, the father of Kim Yoo-min, one of the victims. He staged a hunger strike for 46 days in 2014, demanding the government enact a special law to investigate the disaster.

"Coming here made me miss Yoo-min even more. If I think more of her, she might come to my dreams," he said.

"Seven years have passed, but there are many speculations out there," he said. "I am worried that finding the truth will only become more difficult if a new government takes office while nothing concrete has been found."

A resident from the nearby Wando County, who was onboard the ship to help the families, said that the state response was "poor," and that the passengers were just "left alone" until they died.

"It still makes me cry," the resident, surnamed Kim, said. (Yonhap)




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