Thousands mark 2nd anniversary of Sewol tragedy

Visitors looking at tributes to the victims of the Sewol ferry disaster in a classroom at Danwon High School in Ansan, the victims' home city, yesterday. The tragedy claimed 304 lives.
Visitors looking at tributes to the victims of the Sewol ferry disaster in a classroom at Danwon High School in Ansan, the victims' home city, yesterday. The tragedy claimed 304 lives.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Memorial events held in S. Korea as wounds still run deep among bereaved relatives

Ms Im Young Ae, 47, wears a gold ring on her left hand. It's a family ring, she said, which her son had wanted to get for their family of four to mark his 18th birthday.

"He's someone who cares a lot about his family. He loves to have everyone wear the same family T-shirt, and we were planning to get a family ring after his school field trip," she said.

But her son never got a chance to wear the ring. Oh Jun Young's body was retrieved from the sunken ferry Sewol on his 18th birthday on April 23 two years ago, eight days after the vessel sank off South Korea's south-western coast and killed 304 out of the 476 people on board, mostly high school students.

Two years after the nation's worst maritime disaster, wounds still run deep among the bereaved relatives.

Hundreds of them joined a ceremony held in Ansan city, where most of the victims had lived, yesterday morning to mark the second anniversary of the sinking. Another commemorative event was held on Jindo island, which is nearest to the site of the sinking.

The Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries said on Thursday that the 6,825-tonne ferry that is lying on its side will be lifted intact by the end of July. The 85.1 billion won (S$100 million) project has been assigned to a Chinese consortium and work will begin next month.

Both events drew thousands of people, with those in Ansan marching 5.2km round the city and those in Jindo releasing yellow balloons.

Some family members visited the spot where the ferry sank, throwing white chrysanthemums into the sea.

In Seoul, about 700 college students, holding placards, marched 3.2km in the rain to join an anniversary event at Gwanghwamun Square. Thousands turned up, many queuing to pay respects to the victims at a memorial altar.

Oceans and Fisheries Minister Kim Young Suk, attending the memorial event in Jindo, said the government is doing its best to salvage the sunken vessel and retrieve the bodies of the nine victims who are still missing.

The ministry had said earlier that the 6,825-tonne ferry that is lying on its side will be lifted intact by the end of July. The 85.1 billion won (S$100 million) project has been assigned to a Chinese consortium and work will begin next month.

A naval architect involved in the project told news agency Agence France-Presse that there is an 80 per cent chance of lifting the ship successfully, adding it is a very difficult and challenging project, given that the ferry is lying more than 40m underwater.

Prime Minister Hwang Kyo Ahn, at a ceremony marking Public Safety Day yesterday which was initiated after the tragedy, offered his condolences to the victims' families and said the government has done more to improve public safety and disaster relief procedures.

Investigations have attributed the sinking to human error causing the ship to list, overloaded cargo that threw the ship off balance, and illegal modifications to the vessel that made it hard for it to regain stability. The ship's captain Lee Joon Seok, who abandoned the ship, has also been found guilty of homicide and handed a life term.

But not every parent can accept the investigation results. About 60 of them, including Ms Im, are taking part in a movement to keep the tragedy in people's minds, and urge the authorities to continue with probes and hold culprits accountable. They take turns to keep vigil at Gwanghwamun Square and stage one-man protests around Seoul .

"We want to know the truth behind the incident and why did our son die?" Ms Im told The Sunday Times at the Square on Friday.

"If he was still alive, he would be a first-year accountancy student at Gyeonggi University. He had his whole life mapped out, and he was studying very hard to get to university and become a civil servant."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 17, 2016, with the headline 'Thousands mark 2nd anniversary of Sewol tragedy'. Print Edition | Subscribe