Honor and applaud the unsung heroes
But there are also some unsung heroes in the Coast Guard. In the past, some officers were killed while cracking down on illegally operating Chinese fishermen who resisted arrest. Countless others were injured trying to protect Koreans working at sea.
Two special Coast Guard rescue agents were dispatched to the Captain Vangelis, an 88,000-ton cargo ship that had a massive oil spill in the waters off Taejong Beach, Busan, in February. It had collided with a tanker in nine-foot-high waves.
But Lts. Shin Seung-yong and Lee Soon-hyung, then sergeants, stepped in to minimize damage. They hung from a rope at the side of the ship for an hour and a half, drenched in oil, to cover up the leaking hole. They eventually completed the mission even though the oil irritated their skin.
The lieutenants are now part of the search and rescue mission at the scene of the capsized ferry. They have been on the job for 28 days straight since the first day of the accident.
In a phone interview, Lee said, “I feel sorry for the families still waiting for their sons and daughters, so I had to jump into the sea again.”
Other Coast Guard divers feel the same way. It has been a luxury for them to follow a 30-minute dive with a 24-hour rest. They often change their oxygen tank and dive right back into the ocean. One corporal, Baek Dae-ryuk, even crashed into an object inside the ship and had to be given 10 stitches. He still insisted on diving again.
These officers are the small heroes who do their utmost to complete their jobs. But they have become discouraged because the incompetency of their commanders has brought them harsh criticism from the public. Some said that they cannot even face the victims’ families. But they have done nothing wrong.
Even before the Sewol ferry disaster, the morale of the officers in charge of maritime safety and rescue was not high. Though they take pride in their jobs, they are not likely to be promoted to higher posts in the Coast Guard. Among 67 executives above senior superintendent level, only one has a diving background with experience in rescue.
Before and after the ferry tragedy, the heroes at the scene felt discouraged because of the Coast Guard’s commanders and executives. The newly reorganized body should be an organization that respects, honors and applauds its unsung heroes.
*The author is a national news writer of the JoongAng Ilbo
BY CHOI MO-RAN
JoongAng Ilbo, May 13, Page 29