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Remembering the second year of South Korea’s maritime disaster

South Korea marks its second year upon the Sewol Ferry Disaster. It was a maritime disaster that occurred on April 16th, 2014.
South Korea marks its second year upon the Sewol Ferry Disaster. It was a maritime disaster that occurred on April 16th, 2014.

by Kay Kim, junior editor in chief

South Korea marks its second year upon the Sewol Ferry Disaster. It was a maritime disaster that occurred on April 16th, 2014.


Students from DanWon High school were on their way to Jeju Island for a three nights and four days’ trip when the ferry started to drift and tilt at 8:55 AM. The first distress call was made at this time, too. Despite the unstable movements, the passengers were told not to move and to stay where they were.

At 9:15 AM, the ship started to sink at a rapid pace. Students made their last calls and messages to their loved ones and families.

Then, at 11:18 AM, the ship sank completely. (Experts reveal that everyone could have been saved if the safety crew did not waste time. The first group of coastal guards arrived at the scene 40 minutes after the first call for help. Upon arrival, the ship was already quickly sinking).

“I was shocked, surprised, and scared. If 300 kids died, that’s a lot. They [parents] were expecting their kids’ names to be called [on the list of survivors and retrieved bodies], but they [the kids] never came back,” seventh grade Joane Eom said.

The weight of the cargo in the ship surpassed its legal limit and the ship was not pumping out enough water to balance the heavy load. This imbalance did not help secure safety in the sea channel that is notorious for its rapid and harsh currents.

It was reported that among 476 people that were on board, over 300 people died. The high school’s vice principal committed suicide after he was saved. The captain of the ship was sentenced to serve a lifetime in jail as he was found guilty of the murder of over 300 people. The owner of the ferry’s company was sentenced to serve 10 years in jail. The owner of the ship was found dead after South Korea went on its biggest manhunt to find him.

“The captain does deserve his life sentence in jail. The captain has to tell [passengers] what to do for safety and not leave them behind,” Eom said.

The captain was seen jumping into a lifeboat after he told his passengers to stay put. This aroused great disappointment as he left the passengers and was among the first group of people to escape.

This incident not only affected the students, staffs, and their families but also gave the nation another reason to lower its trust in the Korean government. People were outraged at the government for not actively seeking resolutions. They even rallied to have the Korean president resign from her position.

“I felt betrayed and I lost my trust. At first, they said everyone was rescued, so I was relieved. But it turned out that it wasn’t true, so I felt betrayed by the [false] report,” Ulsan Technical High School student Jiwon Choe* said.

There also were people who worried about the way that foreign countries might view Korea.

“I feel like foreign countries might have been disappointed at how Korea was not making sense of the situation,” Jinju Girls’ High School student SeungHye Shin* said.

Remembering the Disaster

Korea mourned about the disaster for a very long time. A united colleges club, called ALT (Active, Autonomous, Alter Life Together), created a campaign with a yellow ribbon and the quote “A small movement for a big miracle”. Many Korean citizens, along with many public figures, took part in this campaign by changing their profile pictures to the picture of a yellow ribbon that was provided by the club.

Some Korean singers even composed commemorative songs. Yong Jae Shin sang the song, “You Whom I Love”, which was composed by one of his high school fans, who died in the disaster.

This year, the girl group, Red Velvet, released a song, “One of These Nights”. Fans have interpreted it as a commemorative song, although the group never mentioned anything about the disaster.

In the teaser videos, the members are seen holding paper boats, which symbolize the fragility and instability of the ferry. Throughout the music video, there are constant scenes in which the members of the group are surrounded by water or are soaked in water, which reference to the students who were sinking with the ship. The candles also represent the remembrance of death. The lyrics reference to someone being a Milky Way away, which represent the students who have passed away.

Filmmaker, Dong Bin Kim, released a documentary, Upside Down. He tries to reveal the truth behind what really happened.

Along with the public figures, other Korean citizens have been mourning and showing support.

“Currently, in school, us, students are expressing our heartfelt support through letters to the Sewol victims and their families. When I wrote my letter, I wrote it with a mourning heart,” Choe* said.

After the disaster, schools in Korea started to enforce safety.

“When the school goes on overnight trips, picnics, and other group activities, they divide the groups to have as little members as possible. But, the problem isn’t about being divided into groups. If humans can pursue the ideology of treating and acknowledging humans as humans, then we can doubtlessly avoid disasters like this,” Shin* said.

Shin continued, “I think there is nothing better than always remembering April 16th and wishing the dead to rest in peace.”

* Interview was conducted in Korean and translated by the reporter.

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