Toward a safer KoreaMinister of Oceans and Fisheries Lee Ju-young announced yesterday that the government will end the 209-day underwater search for the remains of the victims of the Sewol ferry tragedy. So far, 295 bodies of the missing 304 passengers have been pulled to the surface. Despite the unceasing grief of the relatives of the remaining nine passengers, the government took the right decision.
We pay our deepest respects to the relatives who agreed to the government’s decision despite the unfathomable pain of knowing their loved ones’ bodies are in the dark sea off the nation’s southwest coast. We also praise Minister Lee for his persistent efforts to elicit concessions from the relatives through his signature humility and empathy with the families. Divers have struggled to retrieve the bodies for nearly seven months at the risk of their own lives amid turbulent waves and near-zero visibility. The search team really made a remarkable achievement by salvaging 295 bodies from the sunken ship.
The Sewol calamity laid bare many shameful aspects of our society, as seen in the captain and other crew members who fled the sinking ship leaving all the passengers behind; the CEO of a shipping company who turned a blind eye to the safety of passengers out of greed for more profits; the Coast Guard that didn’t lift a finger to rescue passengers from a capsizing ship; and the government that failed to activate the contingency management system in the middle of a crisis. None did their fair share. The fight over how to uncover the whole truth behind the disaster vividly showed the disgraceful level of our problem-solving abilities and public conscience.
The Sewol tragedy was not simply a maritime disaster. It had such a profound impact on our society that our age is now divided into the pre- and post-Sewol eras. Even after the Sewol calamity, an inferno at a bus terminal and tragic deaths of spectators at a K-pop concert followed. Our society was too busy pinning blame on others to unite to overhaul our culture of safety.
The National Assembly managed to pass the special Sewol law on Nov. 7 and yesterday a court sentenced Lee Jun-seok, captain of the Sewol, to a 36-year prison term. The government’s decision to stop the search should be a new starting point for our society. We hope the relatives of the victims end their sit-ins and join the fact-finding probe of the disaster. Now is the time for our society to unite to draw up safety measures to avert another manmade disaster. That’s the only way to honor the tragic deaths of more than 300 passengers.
JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 12, Page 30