BY EMMA RUBIN '20
On March 23, the South Korean Government initiated the process of raising the MV Sewol, a sunken South Korean ferry. The 6,800 ton ship was en route to Jeju from Incheon, carrying primarily high school students on a field trip when it capsized in April 2014, killing over 300 passengers, according to NPR.
As reported by the Washington Post, the resurfacing project will cost an estimated $72 million and will take about eight days to transport the ferry to the port of Mokpo, where it will be excavated in hopes of finding nine bodies which were never recovered, to offer closure both to the state investigation and to the affected families.
The ship was resurfaced Thursday morning after tests deemed it safe. The procedure, led by the Chinese state-run Shanghai Salvage Company, relied on 33 beams fitted with wires that divers carefully had placed below the ferry over the course of several months. It was then lifted six feet from the seafloor, according to the Canadian Press.
When the ship capsized, it was dangerously overloaded with cargo, which caused it to sink. According to the Maine Public, it held twice the legal weight limit. Questions remain unanswered about why the overloaded ship was allowed to leave port.
According to the New York Times, the ship’s crew instructed passengers to remain in their cabins as the ship capsized. The captain of the ship is currently serving a life sentence for murder after he abandoned the sinking vessel.
The disaster played a determining role in increasing public discontent toward former President Park Geun-hye, who was absent for seven hours on the day of the disaster, much to the resentment of the South Korean public. She was subsequently impeached in December of 2016, a ruling which was upheld by the constitutional court in March.
Her actions on the day of the incident were not noted by the court as official reasons for the impeachment, rather the court cited corruption and cronyism charges as reasonable cause for impeachment, according to The Guardian.
The Sewol disaster remains a relevant political issue. As families seek governmental accountability and personal compensation, right-wing parties argue that continued investigation and compensation would be a frivolous use of time and money, according to the LA Times. As the South Korean presidential election approaches in May, leading candidate Moon Jae-in has already expressed plans to immediately begin a thorough investigation if elected, as reported by the Korea Times.
A lack of closure and accountability remain top concerns for the families of victims. Oh Byung-hwan, the father of one of the disaster victims, told the New York Times, “The government never told us everything, and is more interested in covering it up than in learning the lessons to make the country safer for children.”
Soomin Park ’19, who is from South Korea, is bothered by how the event has become so politically involved. She said, “Presidential candidates are using [the disaster] to garner votes. People are looking not in the way it needs to be looked at.”