Park tries to placate kin on salvage of the Sewol

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Park tries to placate kin on salvage of the Sewol

President Park Geun-hye said Monday that the government will actively consider raising the ferry Sewol from the sea floor, a demand by relatives of some of the victims of the sinking a year ago.

“As of now, a technical feasibility study is ongoing about salvaging the ship, and concerned ministries and agencies are working together,” Park said during a meeting with senior presidential secretaries. “If a conclusion is made that raising the ship is possible, the government will actively consider salvaging the ship while listening to the opinions of the families of the missing passengers, experts and the public.”

“The first anniversary of the Sewol ferry’s sinking will come in 10 days,” she said. “I offer my deep condolences to the families of the dead and the missing.”

The ferry Sewol, en route from Incheon to Jeju with 476 people aboard, began sinking in the morning of April 16, 2014, off Jindo Island in the Yellow Sea. Most of the victims were high school juniors on a class trip. A total of 172 people, including the ship’s captain and other crewmembers, survived the disaster.

The 6,825-ton vessel completely sank beneath the surface on April 18, 2014.

The 295th victim’s body was discovered on Oct. 29, 2014. Twelve days later, on Nov. 11, 2014, the government declared the end of the underwater search mission for victims of the Sewol, leaving nine people still missing.

As the first anniversary of the tragedy approaches, relatives of victims have been offended by government offers of compensation and the plan to have government officials included on a special investigative team to seek out the facts behind the ferry’s capsizing. They think the officials will undermine the team’s work and stop the truth from getting out.

The relatives have focused on the issue of salvaging the wreck, finding the missing remains and also finding the true cause of the accident and the terrible rescue response by the government.

They have rejected the government’s offer of compensation for the dead and assistance for their families.

Last week, a new controversy flared over the government’s proposal to conduct a public opinion poll to determine the fate of the Sewol.

Minister of Oceans and Fisheries Yoo Ji-june said Monday that a taskforce will complete a technical review on the feasibility of the Sewol’s salvage before the end of this month.

“After the review is done, we will collect public opinions on the matter,” he said. “We can have a poll and we can listen to the opinions of the victims’ families and experts.”

In an interview with the Chosun Ilbo on Thursday, Yoo said an opinion poll would be the most pragmatic way to decide whether to salvage the ship or not. He also said the salvage mission would cost 90 billion won ($83 million) to 200 billion won and take from 12 to 18 months.

A team of 23 experts has been doing a feasibility study for the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries since November. The team’s report is scheduled to be submitted to the Ministry of Public Safety and Security this month.

Politicians on Monday fiercely criticized the minister’s comments on deciding the fate of the Sewol through an opinion poll.

“It is wrong to decide whether to salvage Sewol or not based on a poll,” Chairman Kim Moo-sung of the ruling Saenuri Party said. “As far as I know, it is possible to lift it with the technologies we have. It must be salvaged.”

“The government can keep in mind a poll outcome when making an important decision, but making a decision based on a poll is a completely different matter,” said Saenuri floor leader Yoo Seong-min. “It is irresponsible to make a decision on the Sewol’s salvaging based on a poll.”

The opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD), which has supported the salvage of the Sewol, also criticized the minister.

NPAD spokesman Kim Yung-rok questioned the minister’s intention in making public how costly the salvage operation would be and then proposing a poll, and urged Park to keep her promise to the victims’ families.

While the ruling and opposition parties generally agreed that the ship should be raised from the waters, some politicians admitted to reservations.

In a posting on Facebook, Saenuri Rep. Kim Jin-tae said it is nearly impossible to lift the ship and the cost will be astronomical.

He also said the salvage may result in more casualties. Since the Sewol’s sinking, two divers and five rescue crew members died during the search operation.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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