Time for realismRelatives of the missing passengers from the Sewol ferry have tentatively decided to allow the search for the bodies to continue, instead of salvaging the ship which sank off the nation’s southwest coast carrying hundreds of passengers on their way to Jeju Island from Incheon in April. According to a lawyer representing the relatives of the missing passengers, they requested that the government continue the search for the bodies after five out of nine relatives supported that position. The fact that the relatives took a step back and voluntarily raised the issue of salvaging the ship is a meaningful change. But it is regrettable that they stopped short of reaching the conclusion that now is the time to salvage the sunken ferry.
Of the 304 passengers who were originally classified as missing, ten remain so. Since the corpse of a cook surnamed Lee was pulled to the surface on July 18, no body has been discovered. Except for the zones of the ship that divers have trouble accessing due to the collapse of cabin partitions, divers have searched nearly all spaces in the ferry. Also, normal underwater search operations will be more difficult as the temperature of the waters nosedives and the tides turn turbulent when winter arrives. An underwater civilian search company has offered to keep their operation going until the end of this month and then end it to prepare for the salvage of the vessel.
The public did not raise the issue of ending the search operation even when divers came up empty-handed day after day, spending as much as 300 million won ($285,000) a day. That’s because they understood well the deep sorrow of the families of the missing passengers. Under such circumstances, the idea of stopping the search was discussed by the relatives. That was a timely raising of the issue.
Prosecutors have demanded the death penalty for the captain of the ferry and life imprisonment for three other officers in a trial to fix responsibility for one of the worst maritime disasters in Korean history. The punishments are the toughest available. We hope the relatives trust the authorities’ determination to find the truth behind the sinking of the ship and punish those responsible for the calamity, and reconsider their decision to call for a continuation of the search operation. The lawyer representing the relatives also left some room for reconsideration by saying, “We will talk with the government about all options and listen to voices of people from all walks of life.” Given the rough weather ahead and a faint possibility of finding more bodies, it is time to make a realistic judgment.
JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 28, Page 30