After 209 days, search for Sewol victims is ended
Nine remains have not been discovered, but relatives give assent
The government yesterday wrapped up a nearly seven-month search operation in and around the sunken Sewol ferry despite the fact that nine victims are still missing.
The authorities said divers couldn’t hazard the growing dangers inside the disintegrating ferry or the drop in water temperature as winter approaches. Their decision comes 209 days after the April 16 sinking left more than 300 passengers dead in southwestern waters off South Jeolla, mostly 11th-grade students from Danwon High School in Gyeonggi on a field trip to Jeju Island. “I offer my sincerest apology in announcing to you the end of search operations with my earlier promise unfulfilled — that I will find the last remaining victim from the wreck,” said a tearful Lee Ju-young, the minister of oceans and fisheries, during a press briefing yesterday at the central government complex in Gwanghwamun, central Seoul.
The minister, who has been praised across party lines for his leadership and the empathy he has shown to the victims’ families since the calamity, said the conditions for divers conducting search operations have become “too dangerous” with winter on its way and the growing possibility of internal structure collapse inside the ferry. He said there was consensus among experts on the site that divers’ lives would be put at risk. Lee said in his emotional speech that the relatives of the nine missing victims requested the government to stop the search. “The families of the missing victims have pain in their hearts for leaving their loved ones in the cold sea. And yet they request the government to stop the search efforts,” Lee said. “I express my deepest respect for their heartfelt, most difficult decision.” With the ending of search operations, the government will consult experts on how to lift the 6,835-ton ferry from the seafloor 37 meters (121 feet) below the surface. The government’s decision ends the 209-day effort that began as a tragically bungled rescue response to the