Who will decide the victims’ fate?
On the night of Jan. 28, 2011, I saw young, bleeding Egyptian men being carried away to back alleyways near Tahrir Square in the Egyptian capital of Cairo. I assumed they were injured during the protests that were happening there. A few hours later, however, I learned that they had been shot by the police. The protestors said that more than 100 people had been killed, but the Egyptian authorities denied the claims that it was at fault.
The next day, I went to the square again, thinking that the protestors would demand an investigation into the causes of the deaths. But the square was quiet. Then I realized that Muslims were reluctant to get postmortem examinations and that it was customary to have a funeral within 24 hours of a person dying. As a result, the deaths of the protestors did not become a driving force of the struggle.
In September 1994, the MS Estonia sank in the Baltic Sea. It was one of the worst maritime disasters ever, where 852 of the 989 passengers and crew members died. Only 94 bodies were recovered. The Swedish government stopped the search after three months and announced that the ship would not be salvaged after the recommendation of the special ethics committee of philosophers, jurists and other specialists.
The prime reason for leaving the ship in the sea was the possibility of damage to the bodies. They thought it was better to leave the bodies in the sea rather than salvaging the ship and recovering the damaged bodies. The decision was also in consideration of the psychological shock the families and those involved in the search operation could suffer when they saw bodies that had been in the water for an extended period of time.
The MS Estonia is still underwater as a result. There was a rumor it was sealed with concrete. The Swedish government actually considered burying the whole ship but gave up on the project due to lack of technology and due to the predicted cost.
Controversies over burying the ship in the sea have risen over the past 20 years. Some families broke the special law banning a search of the wrecked ship and secretly hired divers to recover the bodies. Others sued the Swedish government at the European Court of Human Rights. There have been various conspiracy theories. A notable theory was that Sweden was trying to bring in secret weapons developed by the former Soviet Union onboard the MS Estonia.
But the citizens supported the government’s decision for the most part.
The timeline is approaching to decide whether to salvage the Sewol ferry with nine people still missing. We don’t have a universal religious belief in Korea. There is hardly any senior figure that is widely respected by the majority of the citizens. Government officials are reluctant to speak up. There are so many obstacles.
*The author is a deputy editor of JoongAng Sunday. JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 13, Page 35
By LEE SANG-EON