Two years ago a passenger ferry carrying 476 people sank off the coast of Jeju Island, South Korea. 304 lives were lost, including 250 high school students who were en route to Jeju Island for a school trip.
To this day, no government body or official has accepted responsibility for the event or given any form of official apology.
The group “Remembering Sewol UK” was set up on after several silent protests on behalf of the people who died in this terrible tragedy.
I spoke to Debbie Kim – who works for the organisation – to see if she could explain why after two years the families of the victims are still looking for answers
Firstly, in spite of its technological advances, South Korea is not a hugely safety-conscious society. The boat that the students were travelling on was not in good enough order to make the journey. This, along with the fact that it was heavily overloaded, means that the disaster was in some ways foreseeable.
Whilst the boat was sinking, TV crews filmed the event which was broadcast live on TV news. The lifeboats that were dispatched rescued all of the crew first. Yet, there were no lifeboats sent out to rescue the passengers, and in such an emergency situation why did the coastguard not respond quicker?
For one thing, the coastguard refused offers of assistance from Japan, from fishing boats and the US navy. It seems that those in charge were negligent, or they didn’t respond quickly enough. It might have been possible, if the coastgurard had acted sooner, to rescue the passengers.
Two years on, the families of the nine victims whose bodies have not been recovered, (who include children, a teacher and a member of the public) are still waiting for the ship to be retrieved.
There has been a permanent tent set up in the main square near the Blue House, the official residence of the President of South Korea.
Some believe that the media set out to deliberately smear the family. They got their compensation, they should move on. The story, which was front page news is in danger of being forgotten by a public addicted to instant news and the next interesting story.
One positive outcome is that the students who witnessed the disaster are becoming more aware of the flaws of their government. Many have had enough of what they see as the corrupt establishment, which has in its president a relation of the dictator who crushed the student regime in 1980.
Some are so sickened by what they term “hell Choson” that they are leaving to work abroad in countries like New Zealand and Australia. It was perhaps inevitable that a country which has some of the highest working hours recorded of any country would see a backlash.
Rememebering Sewol has supporters throughout the world and has recently established a link with victims of the Paris attacks through a Remembering Sewol group there.
There have been screenings of the dcoumentary “Upside Down” and the parents have recently travelled to the UK to meet with parents of the Hillsborough survivors.