On Sunday, South Korea commemorated the third anniversary of the sinking of the ferry Sewol, which went down with 304 passengers and crew on board on April 16, 2014. Victims' families, citizens, politicians, pop stars and celebrities paid tribute to the lost at gatherings across the country.
The Sewol's sinking has taken on a charged political significance in South Korea, and the handling of the post-accident response and investigation played a role in the impeachment of ex-president Park Geun-hye. Four of the leading candidates to replace Park were on stage at a memorial rally on Sunday, holding hands with the chairman of the Sewol victims' families committee and wearing the yellow ribbon that has become the national symbol of the tragedy. In addion, Ahn Cheol-soo, the candidate of the People’s Party, visited the maritime VTS center at Incheon to emphasize his pledge to improve transportation safety.
The four presidential candidates have promised to launch a new investigation of the sinking under executive authority, and several said that they would appoint a special prosecutor to hold involved parties accountable. Many of those closest to the accident have already been punished: the Sewol's captain was sentenced to life in prison; 14 other crewmembers received up to 12 years; five of the vessel operator’s executives were sentenced to three to seven years; and over 50 government officials involved in the response effort were pushed out of their positions. The Korea Coast Guard was disbanded and subsumed under a new National Safety Agency.
Civil society remembers the Sewol
On the island of Jindo, not far from the scene of the sinking, 1,000 people gathered for a commemoration ceremony with speeches from the victims' families and the launch of 304 yellow balloons. Similar scenes played out in Seoul and in the city of Ansan, the home of the students who went down with the ship.
Relatives of the last nine missing victims asked civic organizations not to hold any events near Mokpo New Port, where the wreck has been brought ashore for investigation. “The families of the nine missing victims have made a request to people to refrain from holding commemoration events near the Mokpo New Port,” said the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries in a statement. “These commemoration events can be painful for the relatives of the missing victims.” The Dong-A Ilbo reported that several groups held ceremonies near the dock despite the request, including a mass by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Gwangju and a commemorative march. Photos from the scene show well-wishers festooning the security fence with yellow ribons.
South Korean pop culture also paid its respects, and Korean celebrities published countless new songs, photos and videos in remembrance of the tragedy. The sentiment was not limited to domestic performers: in a last-minute show added on Sunday, British band Coldplay asked an audience of 50,000 for a brief moment of silence to remember the Sewol. The gesture received prominent coverage in the Korea Times, Korea Herald and Yonhap, among others.