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Civic groups, county at odds over removal of memorial facilities for ferry tragedy

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A makeshift memorial center set up at the southwestern port of Paengmok on Jindo Island, South Jeolla Province, to commemorate the victims of the 2014 sinking of the ferry Sewol. Korea Times photo by Shin Ji-hoo
A makeshift memorial center set up at the southwestern port of Paengmok on Jindo Island, South Jeolla Province, to commemorate the victims of the 2014 sinking of the ferry Sewol. Korea Times photo by Shin Ji-hoo

By Bahk Eun-ji

The local government and families of the victims of the 2014 sinking of the passenger ferry Sewol in the waters off the southwestern port of Paengmok have clashed, as Jindo County tried to remove a makeshift structure that was set up there eight years ago to commemorate the tragic maritime disaster.

The county office sent a notification that it would impose a fine, saying the memorial facilities are illegally set up at the port. The port is the closest one to the site of the ferry disaster. In the wake of the maritime tragedy, the bodies of the victims were retrieved and sent here where the families of the victims gathered.

The tragedy left 304 passengers dead, most of whom were teenage students of Danwon High School in Ansan, southwest of Seoul, heading to Jeju Island on a school excursion.

There are still group photos of the young victims at the center, which still many people visit to pay tribute and vow that they won't let such a tragedy happen again.

The makeshift memorial facilities have become a source of tension between the local provincial government and the bereaved families, as the government plans to set up a passenger ferry terminal at the location.

While the families insist that the memorial space, which consists of seven containers, should stay at the harbor where the victims' bodies were recovered, Jindo County argues that there is no need to install another memorial space as there will be one at the national maritime safety center, scheduled to be opened in May, about a kilometer away.

The committee for the creation of Paengmok memorial center, which consists of the bereaved families and local civic groups, urged the county office to immediately withdraw its notice of the fine imposed on the memorial facility.

Earlier on Jan. 20, Jindo County sent a notice that it would impose a 563,000 won ($472) fine if the containers being used as a memorial center, restaurant and auditorium were not removed.

"The space of Paengmok Harbor commemorating the victims should be kept as it is in order not to forget the disaster, which left an emotional scar on many people and has remained a national trauma," the committee said.

However, Jindo County said it has done everything it can for the families of the victims.

"We have done our best by promising to install memorial stones and markers at Paengmok Harbor, but the families have asked for more than that," a county official said.

"Although the passenger ferry terminal is about to be launched, we have no choice but to install a temporary terminal nearby, as the place for the memorial center at Paengmok is where the terminal was supposed to be built."

The county official then said the national maritime safety center will be opened in May, about 800 meters from Paengmok Harbor, and a memorial facility will be built inside the center.

"At the time of the disaster in 2014, Jindo County and residents took the lead in helping the families including in salvage operations. We now urge them to be considerate of our residents and the county," he said.


Bahk Eun-ji ejb@koreatimes.co.kr


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