News / Asia

Some South Korean Ferry Mourners Ready to Move On

South Koreans march during a rally 100 days after the ferry Sewol sunk in Seoul, South Korea, July 24, 2014.
South Koreans march during a rally 100 days after the ferry Sewol sunk in Seoul, South Korea, July 24, 2014.

A man whose 17-year-old child was killed in the April sinking of a South Korean ferry, the country's worst maritime accident in decades, said he is ready to move on, tired of the political wrangling and mud-slinging four months after disaster struck.

But his nerves were on edge. He didn't want his name used and was wary of being overheard while taking a cigarette break during a meeting of grieving families. 

“Everyone is getting exhausted. Most of us like me want to see some kind of closure,” he said on Wednesday night in Ansan, the working class city southwest of Seoul where most of those killed in the disaster had been pupils at Danwon High School.

Families who lost loved ones in the tragedy are demanding accountability from the government, but many have grown weary of strident activists adopting their cause for political ends. 

The overloaded Sewol capsized and sank on a routine voyage that killed about 300 people, most of them children from the same school, causing an outpouring of grief as well as outrage at President Park Geun-hye's conservative government for what was widely seen as a botched rescue operation.

Four months later, the tragedy is so politically charged that Pope Francis had to answer for wearing a yellow ribbon in support of the victims during his visit to Seoul. 

Some family members have tired of the political to-and-fro over proposed legislation to create an independent investigative committee with the right to prosecute. The People's Committee for the Sewol Ferry Tragedy, which supports mourning families, consists of more than 800 civic groups, many of them already critics of Park.

Another father of a victim said some family members did not want left-wing activists helping them, as it compromised their political neutrality. 

“Some of us didn't want to mingle with them, but at that time we were office workers who didn't know how to speak up for ourselves,” he said. “So I thought we needed their support.”

The mother of a victim, who declined to be identified outside the meeting in Ansan, said she had had no choice but to defer to those championing their cause. 

“It is somewhat burdensome that those civic groups are helping us and some people [not tied to the disaster] speak ill of us. But as a mother who lost her child, I have no choice but to follow people who are active in our group because they are doing something that I can't do,” she said.

At Wednesday's meeting in Ansan, households backed their initial position calling for an investigative committee, with 132 out of 176 voting to stick with that demand, rejecting for the second time a bipartisan compromise reached by the country's two main political parties. 

'I have a headache'

At a makeshift camp of victims' supporters in the center of Seoul, a father had been on hunger strike but many of more than 100 people gathered on a morning this week appeared to be left-wing activists. 

Among the posters and banners at the protest site, one says: “Why is the [presidential] Blue House trying to kill Yu-min's father? President Park Geun-hye, come out and take responsibility!”

Activists have rallied around Yu-min's father, Kim Young-oh, 47, who lost his 16-year-old daughter in the disaster and was fasting, living off water and salt, before being taken to a hospital on Friday, the 40th day of his hunger strike. 

“I have a headache. I have a headache because of politicians in South Korea,” Kim said on Wednesday after the leader of the main opposition party visited him after the latest attempt at legislation to investigate the disaster fell short of what many of the victims' families have been demanding.

“We want to find why more than 300 people died unfairly. We want to clarify this and hold a person in charge accountable,” said Kim, who handed a letter to Pope Francis on Saturday before a massive open-air Mass in Seoul.

Politically polarized

South Korea, after decades of armed standoff with the reclusive, nuclear-armed North and entrenched regionalism, has long been politically polarized. Protest groups and demonstrators, and a heavy police presence, are a staple of everyday life in downtown Seoul, and some among the ferry families' victims and their supporters have complained of overzealous treatment by police. 

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, one of the country's largest labor groups and known to take up causes beyond workers' rights, is among those supporting the families.

“Aside from the differences between opposing parties, there is a public consensus into building a safer society. We just want an independent investigation into what happened, but are accused of politicizing it ... it's become politically distorted,” said confederation spokesman Park Sung-shik. 

Kim Hong-cheol, director general of the Citizens' Movement for Environmental Justice, another backer of the families, said it joined the cause because it supports safety and security and bemoaned the political wrangling.

“It is just a simple request of those distraught parents who want to know why their children died. There is nothing political about that,” he said.

The pope, meanwhile, was asked during his return flight to Rome this week about the yellow ribbon he wore in support of the ferry victims.

“I took this ribbon ... out of solidarity with them, and after half a day someone came close to me and said: 'It is better (you) remove it, you should be neutral,”' he said.

“But listen, one cannot be neutral about human pain. I responded in that way. That's how I felt.” 

You May Like

Guatemala Mudslide Death Toll Rises to 86

Death toll is expected to continue to rise as emergency crews dig through tons of earth for an estimated 350 people still missing More

Debris Found in Search for Missing Ship

Objects located Sunday have not yet been confirmed to be from the 240 meter container ship, El Faro, which disappeared in the eye of Hurricane Joaquin, according to US Coast Guard More

Survivor: Gunman Spared 'Lucky One' to Give Police Message

Law enforcement official says a manifesto of several pages was recovered; contents not revealed More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs