Sewol ferry disaster survivors graduate from high school in emotional, low-key ceremony

Families of the victims of the Sewol ferry disaster place flowers at an altar in Ansan, South Korea, on Jan 12, 2016.
Families of the victims of the Sewol ferry disaster place flowers at an altar in Ansan, South Korea, on Jan 12, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

SEOUL (AFP) - Survivors of South Korea's Sewol ferry disaster, carrying 250 roses representing their friends who died, graduated from their high school on Tuesday (Jan 12) at an emotional, low-key ceremony.

The Sewol was carrying 476 people when it sank off the south-western island of Jindo in April 2014, with the loss of 304 lives.

Of those who died, 250 were students from the same Dawon High School in Ansan, some 30km south of Seoul.

The 75 survivors who graduated on Tuesday wore yellow ribbons of remembrance on their lapels or pinned to their bags, and kept their heads lowered for much of the ceremony - diplomas and roses in their hands.

"Because of the Sewol accident, all of us had to undergo a severe trial. But this ordeal was not wasted on us," one of the survivors said in a graduation speech.

"We've learnt how to get over whatever may come to us," he was quoted as saying by the Yonhap news agency.

The ferry tragedy shocked and enraged the country as it became clear that it was almost entirely man-made - the result of an illegal redesign, an overloaded cargo bay, an inexperienced crew and an unhealthy nexus between operators and state regulators.

Following the ceremony, some of the students visited a nearby memorial and laid their diplomas in front of framed portraits of the victims.

A number of victims' parents attended the event.