The tragedies of the Sewol Ferry

By Iris Choi

It has been six years since the tragic incident hit the news of South Korea on April 16, 2014.

A ferry with over 400 passengers from a nearby Jeju island flipped on its way back to the mainland. 33 were crew members, 5 were non-Korean nationality, and 325 were staff and students from Danwon High School.

Only 174 survived.

At 8 am that morning, there were no reports of death yet, but the ferry was turned for the worst.  Officials were concerned by the degree it was at, there was no saving.

The ferry submerged completely at around 11:30 am.  People were in disbelief. There was blame placed toward the president at the time, Park Geun-Hye, for her lack of action.

The Official Korean Coast Guards said that they couldn’t take action until they were given approval and orders by the president. Their communication was jumbled, so they lost time.

The majority of the passengers were the senior class and teachers of a local school coming back from their field trip. The police were able to recover many items that belonged to the students.

Around 9 am, the students texted their parents.  The last messages sounded like, “Mom/Dad, the boat is sinking. What should I do? I don’t want to die. I love you, I’m sorry I couldn’t be a better son/daughter to you.”

Recording of videos inside the ferry was also discovered during the search. You could see and hear the panics in the students voices as they are rushed to wear their life jackets and brace for any impacts.

The 17 minute clip by a 17 year old student, Park Su Hyeon, was able to capture the tragic incident before. It ends with a student saying, “Mom, I love you” before the video ends.

Those who survived now live with the horrors of that day. Many of the survivors now reported to be afraid of the sea, boats, and leaving their homes. Some survivors attempted suicides, and which few succeeded.

The vice principal of the school, who was a survivor, believed he shouldn’t have survived and was at fault for taking the students to the island.  He committed suicide with a note saying “I’m sorry to the class of 2014.”

Kim Gwan-Hong was a diver who helped with the rescue efforts.  He suffered from injuries that kept him from being a full time diver. The government promised him relief funds for his work, but they didn’t follow through. Kim was found dead at his home in Gwangju after his frustrations with the government’s lies and false promises.

The captain said he hesitated to evacuate the passengers because he worried they would have to survive the cold temperature of the sea.  The captain and 15 others escaped with a smaller boat before the ferry sank. There were several reasons why the boat sank.

The ferry held around 2000 tons of cargo, including 185 cars. The ferry took a sharp turn, and the sudden shift of weight caused the ferry to tilt into the water. It was reported that the ferry held four times more items than they allowed, and the crew members did not secure it correctly.

Thirteen crew members were sentenced to 30 years in jail, while the captain will be staying for life. The family members believed the crew members should receive more compared to the lives lost due to them.

In March 2017, three years after the incident, the government finally brought the ferry up to the surface and to the port to examine the remaining bones found inside. They were able to recover the remains of a lost student and a teacher.

Currently they are still missing five people. A father named Kwon Jae-Geun, his son Kwon Hyuk-Gyuu, two students named Nam Hyun-Chul and Park Yeung-In, and finally a teacher named Yang Seung-Jin. 

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