Remains must be recoveredWith little sign of survivors and slow progress in retrieving bodies from the wreckage of the ferry Sewol that sank three weeks ago, distraught families waiting desperately at the dock for news of their missing sons and daughters now fear they may never recover the bodies of their loved ones.
On Friday, a body believed to be a student from Danwon High School was discovered about four kilometers (2.5 miles) away from the sunken ship, even further off than the body of a passenger fishermen retrieved two kilometers away from the disaster site.
The body was found in the opposite direction from the first one, suggesting that victims could have fallen out of the vessel and were swept away by the strong currents, which the area is notorious for.
The government disaster headquarters assures us that the remains will not be lost because authorities have surrounded the area with multilayered net fences. And so far, no victims have floated as far as the outer fence, which is eight kilometers away from the disaster zone.
But three life jackets and more than 600 items from the sunken ship passed through the safety nets and were discovered scattered along a coastal beach 13 kilometers away from the wreck. Fishing nets and fences cannot be entirely relied upon.
The early-stage response from the authorities has been disappointingly slow. There is a lack of preparation against the possibility of bodies being washed away.
Fishermen with nets arrived on the scene three days after the ship capsized deep in the ocean. The headquarters gave a poor excuse that they were too engrossed with the rescue operations to recruit civilian boats immediately.
Fishing boats with dragnets are now combing the sea many times a day and are doing all they can to retrieve any bodies that were carried away by the currents.
But these fishing boats had to temporarily return to the dock on Sunday because of strong wind and waves. Also, their numbers are too small to encircle the entire area of the sea.
Prime Minister Chung Hong-won said he will mobilize all fishermen in the county to prevent the loss of bodies after the first one was discovered floating far from the ferry.
Other fishing boats with anglers to scoop up tiny fish such as anchovies will also be placed on the scene to search nearby islands.
The authorities must stake everything on this because they won’t be forgiven if they cannot salvage bodies, let alone survivors.
As of Friday, 76 are still missing from the ferry that carried 476 passengers, 325 of them students from Danwon High School who were on a school trip to Jeju Island. Only 174 survived.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 3, Page 30.