ANSAN, South Korea: Grief, anger and political tension colored the first anniversary of South Korea’s Sewol ferry disaster on Thursday, with complaints of continued official indifference towards the tragedy that claimed 304 lives.
Victims’ families have rebuffed efforts by government leaders, including Prime Minister Lee Wan-Koo, to pay their respects, accusing them of hypocrisy and ignoring their demands for a fully independent inquiry.
The main memorial event was scheduled for the afternoon, in a remembrance hall not far from the local high school in Ansan which lost 250 of its students when the overladen Sewol sank on April 16 off the southern island of Jindo.
The hall created for the dead teenagers has been a focus of mourning ever since, but families of the victims were threatening to boycott Thursday’s ceremony to push their inquiry call and demand that the 6,825-ton Sewol to be brought to the surface.
The disaster, with the loss of so many young lives, stunned the entire country, and one year later there is still a deep sense of public grievance over the perceived inadequacy of the official response.
While largely blamed on the ship’s illegal redesign and overloading, the accident laid bare deeper-rooted problems of corruption, lax safety standards and regulatory failings attributed to the country’s relentless push for economic growth.
“Nothing has changed,” the JoongAng Daily newspaper said in an editorial Thursday, adding that promised reforms of the government had fallen “way short of changing its often wicked ways”.