Time to salvage the sunken ferryAs of Oct. 9, it has been 177 days since the Sewol ferry incident. The tragedy that resulted in 304 deaths was recorded as the worst disaster since the Sampoong Department Store building collapsed in 1995, killing 502 people. And just like the Sampoong incident, the Sewol tragedy is bound to be recorded in history.
The prosecutors’ office released the final investigation report on Oct. 6, and many of the direct causes of the sinking have been clarified. The Chonghaejin Marine Company had enlarged and renovated the ship too much, letting the overloaded ferry sail. Faulty operation by crew members caused the ship to tilt, and the captain fled without ordering passengers to abandon ship. The Coast Guard was also too late to the scene.
Independent counsels will investigate the case again, but I wonder whether any new facts will be found, at least on the direct cause of the incident.
The ruling and opposition parties made a dramatic breakthrough in the National Assembly on negotiations for the special Sewol ferry law. According to the agreement, the law is to be passed within the month. Compensation and indemnification for the victims’ families will likely be concluded by the end of the month. In the general context, the chaos of the Sewol ferry disaster is settling.
But we need social consensus on the search for the missing passengers. Currently, 10 victims are still missing: five students, two teachers and three passengers. Over 300 ships, nine airplanes, 120 divers and 800 soldiers and policemen are still engaged in the search operation. But there has been little progress. It has been 83 days since the last corpse was discovered.
Naturally, the search operation is funded by taxpayers’ money. According to the government’s estimate, its cost reaches 350 million won ($326,000) a day. Since July 18, 29 billion won has been spent.
The political slogan “Search until the last body is recovered” is novel. But it can’t be a realistic goal for the actual operation. Though it is regrettable for the families of the missing victims, we can’t rule out the possibility that the remaining bodies are lost. And during the search, the lives of two divers and five firefighters were lost.
In the near future, the government needs to decide whether to continue the search. As the ship gathers sediment, salvaging it will be harder. An opinion poll by Gallup Korea in late July showed that 65 percent think the ship should be salvaged, more than twice the number of those who think the search must continue until the last body is recovered. If the poll were taken now, the gap would likely be even bigger.
The author is a deputy political and international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 8, Page 38
by KIM JUNG-HA