Ferry’s re­cov­ery may bring clo­sure in Korea — some­day

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Hyung-Jin Kim

seoul, south korea » Days af­ter South Korea’s pres­i­dent was re­moved from of­fice, a ferry was lifted slowly from the waters where it sank three years ear­lier — a disas­ter that killed more than 300 peo­ple, mostly school­child­ren, and ig­nited pub­lic fury against Park Ge­un­hye and be­came a na­tion­ally po­lar­iz­ing is­sue.

The ferry’s re­cov­ery has raised the ques­tion of whether that process can bring clo­sure to a coun­try that was roiled and split by the ferry sink­ing. The quick an­swer would be: “Not com­pletely.” And the ship’s re­cov­ery is now po­lit­i­cal fod­der ahead of a May elec­tion to choose a new pres­i­dent.

What many South Kore­ans first want to know is whether the bod­ies of the nine miss­ing vic­tims are in­side the hoisted Se­wol wreck­age and whether fresh causes of the sink­ing can be found.

Find­ing the bod­ies could help ease the pains of fam­i­lies des­per­ate to have back their loved ones’ re­mains, though some crit­ics of the re­cov­ery ef­fort say the bod­ies may have al­ready been swept away. Some rel­a­tives went to the scene on boats to watch the sal­vage work that be­gan Wed­nes­day.

It’s un­cer­tain whether the re­cov­ered ship will re­veal some­thing to­tally new re­gard­ing what hap­pened on the day of the sink­ing.

Af­ter in­ter­view­ing crew mem­bers, ship­ping reg­u­la­tors and coast guard of­fi­cers, gov­ern­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tions al­ready blame the disas­ter on a mix of fac­tors such as over­loaded cargo, im­proper stor­age, poor res­cue ef­forts, neg­li­gence by crew mem­bers and cor­rup­tion by the ship’s own­ers. But many griev­ing fam­ily mem­bers and their lib­eral sup­port­ers be­lieve the con­ser­va­tive Park gov­ern­ment was try­ing to cover up deeper causes of the sink­ing amid un­con­firmed ru­mors swirling on South Korean in­ter­net sites.

One ru­mor spec­u­lates the ferry col­lided with a sub­ma­rine, while an­other al­leges the Se­wol was over­loaded with re­bar to be used for the con­tentious con­struc­tion of a navy base on Jeju.

Dis­trust of the gov­ern­ment’s con­clu­sion is partly, per­haps mostly, as­so­ci­ated with the sharp con­ser­va­tive-lib­eral di­vide in South Korean so­ci­ety re­sult­ing from the coun­try’s tur­bu­lent mod­ern his­tory marked by Ja­pan’s colo­nial rule and the 1950s war that di­vided the Korean Penin­sula into two ri­val coun­tries.

In 2010, a con­ser­va­tiveled gov­ern­ment hoisted a sunken South Korean war­ship and blamed North Korea for tor­pe­do­ing it near their dis­puted sea boundary. Many lib­er­als didn’t be­lieve it and sim­i­lar un­con­firmed ru­mors flared. Some lib­er­als cited a his­tory of fab­ri­ca­tion of ev­i­dence by past con­ser­va­tive, au­thor­i­tar­ian gov­ern­ments in­clud­ing one headed by Park’s dic­ta­tor fa­ther.

Be­reaved fam­i­lies of the Se­wol vic­tims have been camp­ing at a main Seoul boule­vard near Park’s of­fice for more than two years, call­ing for a stronger in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

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