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Time to keep Sewol tragedy in memory, transform nation

Posted November. 12, 2014 05:10,   


Families of the nine victims who remain missing after the Sewol accident demanded a halt to underwater search on Tuesday, and the government declared discontinuation of the search. The court handed heavy sentences to crew members of the Sewol, including captain Lee Jun-seok, on the same day. These came on the 209th day after the Sewol tragedy. We express our deepest respect to families of the missing people for their courageous decision. The families cited the safety of divers who have engaged in search mission as the most important reason for their demand to halt search, saying, “No more people should lose their family members and live life in pain like us.”

As the head of the Oceans and Fisheries Ministry in charge of the accident, Minister Lee Ju-young earned support from the families, and has reasonably resolved the situation. Right after the accident, Lee had stayed with families of those who went missing in the accident at the site in Jindo, South Jeolla Province. Announcing discontinuation of search, Lee wept due to overflowing emotion at the moment when he paid respect to the victims of the accident.

Nevertheless, it is not appropriate that discontinuation of search would directly mean lifting of the sunken ferry. It is also questionable whether lifting of the ill-fated ship will bring about the discovery of those who remain missing. On the other hand, bringing up the vessel is projected to cost way more than 100 billion won (91 million U.S. dollars). This is not an issue that can be determined only based on cost-benefit analysis, but a possible way to end the tragedy may be to erect a marine structure on top of the Sewol and turn the site into a memorial park.

The court sentenced Lee Jun-seok 36 years in prison for the charge of manslaughter through abandonment. The court judged Lee ordered crew and passengers to evacuate the ferry, and hence did not impose murder charges against him. People naturally feel discrepancy between law and the reality, because even though his error resulted in deaths of 304 people, he cannot be punished with murder charges. The 14 other crewmembers were given five to 30 years in prison, respectively. Earlier, the court also issued rulings on family members of the late Cheonghaejin Marine Chairman Yoo Byeong-eon, including his eldest son Dae-gyun. Judgment will be made based on facts and justice at trials in the appeals court and the Supreme Court. The Special Sewol Act for investigation of the tragic accident was approved by the National Assembly late last month. It is time to return to normalcy. It is also time for bereaved families who have staged sit-in protest to secure parliamentary approval of a Special Sewol bill at Gwanghwamun Square to return the plaza to citizens.

The mother of the late Choi Deok-ha, a high school student who was the first to report the accident to 119, told her son when receiving his body, “Deok-ha, I love you. The time I lived with you was short, but we both know that I loved you very much, and you loved mom so much. I am so sad. I want to hold you. I want to embrace you in my heart.”

April 16, 2014 was a day of national disgrace. We should never forget the images of our children, who died while thoroughly believing grown-ups would rescue them. Those who were behind the Sewol tragedy have been punished, and investigation has ended, but we are just starting what we have to do. We should not bring investigation into truths behind the Sewol accident to a destructive political strife, and instead use it as a watershed to transform this nation.