We all must play our partA tent serving as a temporary morgue at a port in Jindo, South Jeolla, where a ferry packed with 325 high school students on a field trip to Jeju Island capsized last Wednesday, turned into a site of mourning for families as divers returned from the vessel carrying the bodies of their children. Those who identified their own sobbed and fell to the ground, and those who could not came out red-eyed and equally battered. Salvage operations finally picked up pace after divers entered the ship over the weekend. The closest port to the disaster zone is full of ambulances, broadcast trailers and tents for volunteers. Families flock to the tally board every time authorities update the body count.
The families have neared the end of their patience as more than 200 remain unaccounted for. Their hopes turned into despair and their grief into rage. Those crowded in a gymnasium near the port demanded to meet the president because they can no longer trust anyone from the government. A group of 100 attempted to make a trip to the presidential office and clashed with the police, who stopped them. Prime Minister Chung Hong-won tried to calm them but was instead trapped in his car for hours to avoid clashing with protesting families.
Families lost trust in the government authority because it had been unreliable from the beginning. Following its major mistake of announcing that all of the students had been saved, the government had to reverse its announcements several times on the number of passengers, those missing, the dead and total survivors. Various government agencies worked out of sync, further slowing rescue efforts. Parents of children attending Danwon High School released a statement that the government has done nothing on its own.
When the head of the West Sea Coast Guard tried to assure families during a briefing over the weekend, someone from the audience who introduced himself as a survivor of a 2011 boat fire questioned if the salvage campaign was working on a manual. The government has merely been repeating itself that it will do its best, but it has not elaborated on how. How can we have any faith in a government that repeatedly acts clumsily in the face of major disasters? How many more lives have to be sacrificed and how many times must we experience tragedy before we finally learn? We all have to admit that we have been senseless and indifferent to safety and respect for human lives. That collective apathy built the irresponsible society we live in today. We all must play our part.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 21, Page 30