Sewol memorial unfinished due to disputes and resistance
Eight years after the Sewol sinking, a project commemorating the tragedy is much delayed and only partly completed due to disputes over money and resistance from local residents, with some even saying they would prefer to have no memorial built at all.
On the morning of April 16, 2014, the overloaded and improperly modified ferry sank off the island of Byeongpung in Jindo County, South Jeolla, while traveling from Incheon to Jeju Island.
Of the 304 who died in the disaster, 250 were students.
Koreans have vowed not to allow the tragedy, which shone a light on corner cutting and lax attitudes toward safety and helped to bring down a government, to recede from memory.
"Remember" signs can be spotted around the country, and yellow ribbons with "We won't forget" and "We will remember" are a common sight on the anniversary.
Sewol is seared in the collective consciousness of Korea and is remembered by many abroad.
The site set to memorialize the event was scheduled for completion before the eighth anniversary of the tragedy. Today, the National Maritime Safety Center sits unfinished.
In a parklike setting overlooking Paengmok Harbor, the project was to have a center dedicated to the disaster and an educational facility.
The building is up but not completed. A golden statue sits high on a hill, but no landscaping has been done. Construction equipment can still be seen. Much concrete seems to have been poured, but it is not yet the memorial envisioned, with throngs of visitors paying their respects and being edified on the finer points of safety.
The Ministry of Economy and Finance argues that Jindo County should finance 1 billion won out of the total budget of 2.5 billion won, leading to conflict between the central and local governments.
As the National Maritime Safety Center is technically categorized as a memorial, it is the an auxiliary project, the ministry argues.
If the operating expenses of the center are not fully funded by the central government, the local government will lose more than 300 million won every year, Jindo Country counters.
After the Sewol disaster, the number of tourists to Jindo County decreased by 80 percent, and only about 10 percent of 30 billion won in damages awarded to fishermen has been paid. The Jindo County Current Affairs Committee of former civil servants in Jindo argues that "The Sewol ferry facilities should be demolished so that Jindo can develop past the disaster."
For the Sampoong Department Store collapse of June 1995, in which 502 people died, the memorial was moved to a place not related to the collapse, Yangjae Citizen's Forest, due to backlash from residents of apartments near the site.
"We do not want Jindo to be a place of sadness anymore," one Jindo resident said.
The Sewol was carrying 476 passengers and crew when it made a sudden turn, which caused it to capsize. The ferry sent out a distress signal to the Korea Coast Guard, and rescue operations were commenced. Passengers were told to remain where they were as the boat took on water, while initial reports were sent out indicating that all passengers had been rescued.
An investigation was initiated into the causes of the sinking, and the captain of the ferry, Lee Joon-seok, was sentenced to life imprisonment. A manhunt was organized for the owner of Chonghaejin Marine, the operator of Sewol, and he was eventually found dead under mysterious circumstances. Criticism of then-president Park Geun-hye that built in the aftermath of the Sewol disaster played a part in her presidency ending in impeachment in 2017.
Conspiracy theories were spun and some are repeated to this day.
Some would just like to forget the tragedy ever happened.
BY JIN CHANG-IL, LIM JEONGWON [firstname.lastname@example.org]