At 9 AM on April 16, 2014, after making a sharp turn, the Sewol ferry, its decks overladen with cargo, began to capsize off the southwest coast of South Korea. Hasty news reports of a full rescue raised family’s hopes only to dash them against the reality that only 172 had been evacuated and rescued, and 304 – mostly high school students – remained trapped inside. As the government stalled and fumbled through its emergency response during the “golden moments” of rescue, and as minutes turned to hours, and days into months, hope of rescue faded and anger mounted exacerbated by reckless inaccurate media reports and the government’s attempts to cover-up its ineptitude and sluggish response. A perfect storm of corporate greed, lax regulation, corruption, and government incompetence turned a simple accident into Korea’s worst maritime disaster in 40 years and questioned the legitimacy of a government focused on economic growth but negligent of its people’s well-being.
Now, nearly a year later, 295 bodies have been recovered, but 9 remain missing. Countless demonstrations, six million signatures, an eight month occupation of Gwanghwamun Square, and hunger strikes by the victims’ families have been carried out demanding the full truth behind the tragedy and punishment of those responsible. The government remains unresponsive paralyzed by special interests and fearful of the full implications of the truth; with bodies still missing and the truth covered up, victims’ families are denied the closure necessary to move on.
To uncover the truth and prevent such senseless deaths in the future, the victims’ families have been demanding the creation of a committee with full investigative and prosecutorial authority. The government’s response has been a timid anemic committee that has still not launched a full investigation due to departmental budget disagreements. Furthermore, while the families of those still missing are demanding the recovery of the Sewol to recover the missing bodies and uncover the truth, the government is balking ostensibly due to the costs of such mission.
Punishment for those responsible has been slow. The chief executive officer and five other employees of Cheonghaejin Marine, which owned the Sewol, are being prosecuted for negligence in the conduct of business, professional negligence resulting in death, and violating the Ships Safety Act after re-operating a 20 year old retired ship, illegally restructuring it, and overloading its top decks with cargo for greater profits. However, the current legal system makes difficult prosecution of these companies or its executives.
As the one year mark approaches on April 16th, some say, “Enough, stop fighting and just commemorate the one-year memorial quietly.” Yet, how can we ensure such tragedy does not re-occur? How can we give closure to victims’ families when the truth is covered up, the culprits are not held responsible, and nine bodies remain missing?
We must struggle against time, against the government’s efforts to cover up the truth, against a government-dominated media, and against our own apathy, so that we do not forget, and so that we can create a society that values people’s well-being and safety over profits and where such tragedy cannot re-occur.
The International Strategy Center stands with the victims’ families and demands:
- A full investigation into the truth behind the Sewol ferry disaster
- Punishment of those responsible for the disaster
- Recovery of the Sewol ferry and the nine missing bodies
Please support our call and consider:
- Signing our petition demanding that the government carry out the victims’ families’ demands.
- Participating in our photo campaign by posting a photo on Facebook or Twitter holding a sign with where you are (city and country) along with the hashtag #thetruthmustnotsinkwithsewol, and sending us a copy of your picture to firstname.lastname@example.org
- Organizing others to join the campaign.
- If you are living in Korea, attend our Open Lecture event on April 11th with the families of the Sewol victims [further information and registration at http://bit.ly/1Ovc3yv.]
We will be displaying the photos in our April issue of the Monthly World Current Report and handing them along with the petition to the family members as a gesture of solidarity. Through this campaign, we hope to raise international awareness to the reality that the Sewol tragedy remains unresolved, and to place international pressure on the Korean government to bring relief to the families who have suffered long enough.
Thank you for your support!