S. Korea to raise Sewol; grieving parents unmoved
South Korea’s president vowed to raise the sunken Sewol ferry Thursday, but was still snubbed by grieving relatives on the first anniversary Thursday of the disaster that claimed 304 lives — most of them schoolchildren.
“I will take the necessary steps to salvage the ship at the earliest possible date,” Park Geun- hye announced during a brief visit to the southern island of Jindo — the closest landfall to the site where the Sewol sank on April 16.
followed weeks of protests by victims’ families demanding a firm commitment on raising the 6,825-tonne ferry, despite the technical challenges and the estimated US$110 million cost.
But the families were still not satisfied and boycotted a planned anniversary memorial event, saying Park had failed to give other assurances on ensuring a fully independent inquiry into the tragedy.
“President Park has repeatedly ignored our demands,” families’ spokesman Chun Myeong- sun told a rally of more than 5,000 people in Seoul’s City Hall plaza on Thursday evening.
While largely blamed on the ship’s illegal redesign and overloading, the Sewol disaster laid bare deeper- rooted problems of corruption, lax safety standards and regulatory failings attributed to the country’s relentless push for economic growth.
Of the 304 who died, 250 were children from the same high school in Ansan, a city south of Seoul that was the focus of Thursday’s remembrance activities.
Minute’s Silence for the
Flags flew at half mast and yellow ribbons fluttered from trees and lamp posts across the city, where sirens blared at 10:00 a.m. (0100 GMT) and residents bowed their heads for a minute’s silence and prayer.
Despite torrential rain, thousands of mourners passed through a memorial hall containing hundreds of black-ribboned, flowerringed portraits of the dead students.
Parents and other relatives sobbed and beat their chests as they left messages, stuffing animals and favored snacks under the framed photos.
“My son, I hope you’re happy up there. Mom misses you so much,” one message read.
A giant screen showed a slide- show of family pictures below a large banner that read: “We’re sorry. We love you. We won’t forget.”
Uniformed students from Danwon High School were among those who paid their respects, standing in tearful silence before the portraits of their dead classmates.
A formal memorial event had been scheduled for the afternoon in Ansan, but the victims’ families cancelled it, despite Park’s agreement to salvage the ferry.
Yoo Gyoung- geun, another spokesman for the families, said there was anger that the president had not properly addressed
the independent inquiry issue.
“I’m afraid her words were just meaningless,” Yoo said.
Public opinion has been largely supportive of the families, although some conservative groups say left- wing organizations have hijacked the cause in an effort to embarrass the government.
A total of 295 bodies were recovered from the ferry, but nine remained unaccounted for when divers finally called off the dangerous search in November.
The families of those still miss- ing had spearheaded the calls for the ferry to be brought to the surface.
The president had intended to pay her respects at a special altar erected at the island’s harbor, but angry relatives put up a barrier to block her access.
And when Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo went to Ansan on Thursday morning, he was turned away at the entrance to the remembrance hall by victims’ families.
Park and her administration had promised an overhaul of national safety standards after the disaster, but most believe their efforts have fallen short.