Koreans might remember the April 16th ferry Sewol disaster. It was a national disaster when all of the Koreans’ hearts were in their mouths four years ago. Still, many arguments are unceasing in various aspects in Korean society. Although it happened four years ago, it is needed that Koreans should shed light on and break out of a vicious circle. The bereaved families live in pain due to facts that are not let out. Although it was a national disaster and unprecedented state, the nation, which has the responsibility of citizens’ safety, did not implement that duty. Also, management after the affair is also confusing. No effort toward lessening sorrow, but movement according to benefits is shown to Koreans and it made a lot of rumors. Now, the Sewol ferry finally rose to the surface after four years. Meanwhile, when will the truth of the Sewol ferry arise?
1. Refloating the Sewol Ferry, Why Now?
a. Discussion about Refloating Time
The Sewol ferry disaster is a unique accident in Korean history. In total, 304 people were sacrificed and all Koreans are undergoing trauma and depression. On April 16th in 2014, a search operation to find passengers of the Sewol ferry started. After seven months, in November of 2014, the operation ended. Even though national workforces for submergence are insufficient, many civilian volunteers participated to collect casualty instead of refloating the ferry. However, still nine victims are in the sea. Sadly, death occurred endlessly during the preliminary search of the Sewol ferry. Some submergence volunteers died, so society acknowledged that refloating is the only method to find the dead in the ferry. However, many Koreans have doubts about the timing as to why it is now.
In November 2014, many big companies said that they would support the refloating through many methods, such as providing large barges for free immediately after finishing the search operation. However, bereaved families who did not want to find damaged corpses refused to start refloating for the reason of collecting corpses. Since then, refloating was decided through following the official procedure in April 2015. After four months, a refloating business was chosen in August and refloating started in September. At that time, the refloating business said that they will refloat the Sewol Ferry by June 2016. However, it was continually delayed because there was a slipup in the installment of the lifting beam. The Ministry revealed that they could not find an improvement point in the installment processes, so they delayed until the second quarter in 2017 and could do it just now. The reason why the arguments appeared endlessly might be due to excellent timing. Immediately after the impeachment of Park Geun-hye, the Sewol ferry refloating progressed quickly. Due to this point, TV current affairs program “I Want to Know It” dealt about the process of the Sewol ferry refloating, shedding light of Park Geun-hye’s government’s slow progress on refloating to many Koreans.
b. Discussion about Refloating Business and Cost
On March 23rd, 2017, finally the Sewol ferry floated on the surface. Immediately afterwards, the floating business got national attention. It is named “Shanghai Salvage,” a large ocean rescue enterprise where about 1400 professional workers operate in the ship salvage unit. The salvage work of the Sewol ferry was tendered all over the world requesting that ferry not be cut and pulled straight. As such, the Korean government proceeded with an international bid to choose excellent techniques. Through this process, Shanghai Salvage and Oceancni, which is a domestic submarine cable enterprise, were chosen and distributed shares. At first, Shanghai Salvage decided to refloat through installing airbags outside, delivering air from tanks to lift up the ferry. However, it failed and controversy about technical skills appeared. So, the strategy called “Tandem Lifting” was chosen and it successfully refloated the Sewol ferry.
There are strong arguments, both for and against the cost of the Sewol ferry refloating. According to broadcasts, about 100 billion was used for refloating, and businesses took about 9.16 billion. As it revealed, the real time search words “cost of refloating Sewol ferry” ranked the first place. According to the survey, 77% of Koreans agreed for using numerous costs for refloating. Unlike the national atmosphere, some opposed the astronomical sums of money. Representatively, a member of the National Assembly named Kim Jin-tae wrote his own logic that the money should be given to the installment of a memorial park, not refloating. Finally, according to this logic, everything that did not make a profit should not be implemented and we should discuss the merits. However, the ”Rule of Money” should not be adapted in accidents, especially in the case of this Sewol ferry disaster. Humans’ lives should not be calculated as cost. Approaching this disaster with the Rule of Money cannot resolve the crisis. Considering refloating as an economic calculation and converting citizens’ lives to the value of money should not be spread among Koreans.
2. This Day in 2017
a. Persistent Ridicule Against Humanity
Koreans might remember hearing of relations on Choi Soon-sil gate. Then, do you remember the words on members of the National Assembly’s badges? Words such as ”Children in the Sewol ferry” were written to press for an honest investigation, but it is the wrong expression. “Victims of the Sewol ferry” is the appropriate expression because generally the dead forty nine and five missing people are also involved. Like this, unconscious insufficient social acknowledgment causes dispute among Koreans. Some still commit crimes of ridicule against humanity to victims’ families. Surprisingly, the expressions that “It was just accident on a school trip,” “Child is just the secret to your grave,” and “Thief of Tax” are used to ridicule victims’ families. Also, some even ate pizza like a pig in front of families going on a hunger strike. They started to ridicule families again with mentioning the refloating cost.
b. Korean Government; Just Focus on Transferring Preparation Not on Discovery of Remains
The biggest topic in the process of the Sewol ferry refloating was the discovery of the nine missing people in the ferry. It was a large duty to find their corpses, which were not found in the original 7-month search operation. However, sediments discovered in the refloating process were not preserved well, so there is criticism that the handling of missing people was not sufficient. Although there are many sediments that came from the refloating operation, there is no preservation solution about sediments. The result is the government and the refloating business did not control the approach of sediments because they were both just focus on transferring. The important reason of discovery of sediments is that remains of missing people could be mixed in there. Like this, the lax security of government has made families depressed and concerned. Also, the possibility that pieces of bones can be collapsed because detail operations are happening at the same time is a concern. Government’s attitude that they are concentrating on transferring preparation is inappropriate because there are some sediments discovered in the operation place.
3. Are Non-Regular Workers in Temporary Positions, Even After Death?
Most of the non-regular workers in Korea have been discriminated against others. Furthermore, even the Korean government discriminated against non-regular workers who died in the case of the Sewol ferry disaster. The first dispute is about dying on the job during short-term teaching positions. Nine teachers among eleven died in the Sewol ferry. Among the dead, two held short-term teaching positions and the Korean government did not give acknowledge them as having died on the job just because they were not regular workers. Therefore, the Korean government insisted that they cannot be acknowledged as the educational public service employees. The government divided victims between regular and non-regular, even in death. As the result, two teachers who were not regular teachers, but died in the process of rescuing students, cannot be buried in the National Cemetery and their families cannot receive annuity. In an interview, father of Lee Gi-hye said, “My daughter’s death might be more miserable due to the government’s management.” Unfortunately, one more case has happened. Families of two working students employed as non-regular part-time workers on the Sewol ferry were also refused by the shipping industry for funeral expenses assistance. The victims were employees who handed out food to passengers on the Sewol ferry. As it seems from these examples, government or interest groups were just busy to take their own benefits, even in front of wrongful deaths.
4. Things We Should Look Back upon in Suspended Time
A lot of consolation messages were sent to victims’ families during the period of the Sewol ferry disaster. Unfortunately, the dead on April 16th, 2014 are not the only victims of this national disaster. Some volunteers for submergence in search operations were sacrificed. They decided not easy work to go into the sea with just pure minds to help search for missing people. Even now, many people who did submergence undergo psychological trauma. More citizens should acknowledge that not only victims’ families, but also volunteers in the search operation still undergo endless traumas and it bothers their daily lives. One volunteer participated in submergence expressed the situation with saying, “Often I want to die. When I woke up in the dream at that time of submergence, it still felt like reality.” Volunteers who participated in submergence were faced with about 200 corpses through the search operation. General people who work in submergence might not face any corpses. The traumas they underwent is continuing after they finished the search operation. Not only psychological agony, but also the evil tiding was Gong U-yeong’s story. He was the representative of volunteers of submergence, and he was unjustly accused with professional negligence. Police accused him unduly and insisted that he caused one volunteer’s death. Now, he cleared himself of a false charge, but colleagues feel betrayed by police who handed over responsibility to Gong. If support and interest toward them are discontinued, Korea still stay on the red light in front of national disasters.
Looking back on the Sewol ferry disaster is an important task we should focus on nowadays. Walking out of the past and considering the current system for improvement is the road Korea should go. Although the Sewol ferry left a lot of mysteries, it is needed that explanation and consideration should be present. One of the most important things to do is punishment for people who spread baseless rumors. Victims’ families have suffered from a lot of rumors and criticism. The Korean government should show an active attitude to prevent this social phenomenon. The effort to improve the press points that advised at that time should appear. Above all things, the Korean government with low safety ignorance should have light shed upon it.
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