Difficult decision under the sea
Relatives of the 10 Sewol ferry victims still unaccounted for are considering allowing the salvaging of the ship that sunk on April 16. A lawyer representing the victims’ relatives said the last step to finding the missing remains - raising the sunken ship - could be discussed. Opinions are still mixed among the relatives. But this represents a change from their earlier position that the ship must not be brought to surface until the last body is found.
Of the 304 passengers on the Sewol that sank in the sea off Jindo County, South Jeolla six months ago, 294 bodies had been found. Ten people are still unaccounted for. The last body to be recovered was found on July 18. Searching has not stopped. Most areas in the submerged hull have been combed several times.
But certain areas are blocked by detritus and the conditions are becoming more and more dangerous for divers due to corrosion of the ship’s interior. The water temperature, among other conditions, is worsening as winter nears. Some are already saying the search cannot go on much longer.
But no one can give up on the search until the relatives still waiting on shore agree. The government, politicians, media, and people involved in the search mission cannot say a single word that might upset those bereaved people.
But if you look at the situation unemotionally, a continuation of the underwater search operation could be meaningless. There have been few cases in maritime calamities where search missions went on for so long and continued to find remains.
But whether hoisting the ship is the best solution to wrap up the salvage operation requires further study. The sunken ferry is more than 10 times heavier than the Cheonan naval ship that sank in 2010 after being hit be a torpedo.
It took 20 days to bring the Cheonan vessel out of the waters. The currents in the sea where the Sewol is are much faster than the west coast near Baengnyeong Island where the Cheonan sank. The recovery could take much more time and effort. The relatives and the victims could hope that more remains are found, but could be disappointed.
Since the relatives have now mentioned the possibility of ending the underwater search, experts, the government, and society should use their collective wisdom to come up with a reasonable way to wrap up the salvage operation. If we close the chapter on this tragic incident in a reasonable and mature way, it could be one way to atone for the valuable lives lost at sea. JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 25, Page 30