Sad portrait of the Coast Guard

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Sad portrait of the Coast Guard

What surviving students testified of their fight for life during the final hours on a sinking ferry was shockingly and frighteningly more dismal than many had imagined. “The Coast Guards were at arm’s reach as we made our way to the deck. But none reached out,” one told judges during the trial of the captain and crew facing a number of criminal charges including murder for abandoning passengers of the Sewol ferry which sank on April 16 in waters off the southwest coast killing over 300, most of whom were students. The sloppy and late rescue is inexcusable. But it is a graver crime if members of the Coast Guard did not even attempt to save students who were clearly in need of help.

“Half of us were swept up by the wave while waiting. Some of them went back in and never came back,” the witness said. The survivors said they were told to wear life jackets not by the crew but by their supervisors. None of the crew gave evacuation orders. The survivors all said that more of their peers would have been saved if they were helped or asked to evacuate.

More than 110 days have passed since the Sewol ferry sank not far from land. Ten bodies are still missing. Yet authorities have not given a clear explanation as to why the ferry sank and so many lives were lost. The media spotlight has shifted to the death of Yoo Byung-eun, the de facto owner of the ferry, and arrest of his son and aides. More attention has been given to the female bodyguard who was found with Yoo Dae-gyun. The eldest son is actually less responsible for embezzlement and questionable business operations than his younger brother, who is still on the run. Yet recent media coverage of the case has been entirely devoted to 33-year-old woman, a taekwondo athlete and referee with 20 years of experience who had accompanied Yoo during his three months on the run. The media has been speculating about the relationship between Yoo and the woman, who is also a believer in the religious sect founded by the late Yoo.

There are also wild rumors about the death of Yoo - talks of murder and gang involvement are rampant on the Internet. Public suspicion is understandable given the incompetence of police and prosecutors throughout the case.

Unsafe and old ferries are still in operation carrying hundreds of people. We should have a comprehensive outline on ferry safety by now. But the Sewol case has been overshadowed by scandals and theories instead of fact-finding and action. We should stop wasting time and energy on rumors and focus on the serious issues.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 29, Page 30

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