The salvage conundrumAt Monday’s meeting with her senior secretaries at the Blue House, President Park Geun-hye said her government will positively consider the idea of salvaging the Sewol ferry, which sank off the southwest coast on April 16 last year with more than 300 passengers aboard. Despite some strings attached - that the government will do so after listening to opinions of victims’ families, experts and public opinion - Park’s remarks will most likely trigger a heated debate on whether to salvage the ship from the floor of the sea off Jindo County, South Jeolla.
Families of the victims - mostly high school students on a trip to Jeju Island - have persistently called for the government to raise the wreckage, which may have the remains of nine passengers still missing. Recent opinion polls show more members of the general public are in favor of pulling up the ship than not. A government-funded research institute said there are no surpassing technical problems in lifting the ship to the surface as the terrain of the seabed is not so hostile.
Even though the first anniversary of the Sewol tragedy is less than 10 days away, the bodies of nine passengers have not been found. Needless to say, the government must do its best to find the last of the remains. Victims’ families and the opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy all contend that the sunken ferry should be brought to the surface in order to figure out the real cause of the sinking. In the meantime, conservative forces and maritime experts say otherwise for three particular reasons. First, it is difficult to lift the nearly 10,000-ton ship with our own technology. Second, the salvage may further damage the remaining bodies of passengers or cost a few additional lives. Third, the massive operation may cost from 90 billion ($82.9 million) to 200 billion won, which would be borne by taxpayers.
If the government must salvage the ship, it needs a clear reason. Since the worst maritime tragedy in Korea, our society has been severely divided due to the deepening ideological and generational conflicts. If the government can reduce such schisms through the salvage, it would be worth it.
Even now, scores of victims’ families and other liberal groups continue their protests at Gwanghwamun Plaza and other parts of the country to demand the government get to the bottom of the sinking and its own terrible rescue operation. If we want to get the opportunity to move on, the government, politicians and victims’ family must open their hearts and speak with sincerity to close this grievous chapter of our history.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 7, Page 34