Monday, 12 May 2014

S Korea ferry disaster: Don't forget those still waiting to find their loved ones

Around 10 days after the April 16 sinking of the ferry Sewol, which killed hundreds of passengers who were mostly high school students on a field trip, the mother of one missing student lamented that she may not be able to identify her son's body if it was found because he did not wear any brand-name clothes. "I didn't have enough money to buy him brand-name clothes and now I'll never have the chance," she said as she wept.

Once a body is found, the description appears on a large monitor in the gymnasium in Jindo where the families of the missing students have been staying since the tragedy. The characteristics are gender, height, clothing and any distinctive physical characteristics. The families undergo a harrowing emotional moment each time the monitor displays such information.

On April 24, one woman in her 20s wept in agony as the description on the monitor matched that of her brother. She had always been among the most active among the family members of victims in calling for more efforts to find the passengers and had remained relatively calm until then.

Her hands shook as she gathered her belongings from the floor of the gymnasium. Tears streamed down her cheeks and dripped from her glasses. Other family members could not take their eyes off of her until she headed off to identify the body.

The same day, another woman learned that the body of her 44-year-old husband had been found. Other family members, who were still waiting for news about their loved ones, told her she was lucky to have found him.

After identifying the bodies of their child, husband or wife, families hold a funeral and finally head home. But those who still remain at the gymnasium keep staring at the monitor.

Some 500,000 people have visited a memorial altar in Ansan, south of Seoul, near the high school where most of the passengers came from. But the families still remaining at the gymnasium in Jindo wonder how much longer they have to wait until they hear any news about their loved ones. As the number of the missing dwindles, so do the numbers of volunteers working at the gym and journalists covering the tragedy. But the hearts of the Korean public should be with them until they too find their loved ones.

Weakening ship

Nearly a month after the ferry Sewol sank off the southwest coast of Korea, rescuers are encountering a new challenge as the search continues for 29 people still unaccounted for: a weakening ship.

The mission has been suspended since Saturday due to dangerous conditions such as high waves and strong tides. Coastguard spokesman Ko Myung-seok said the search will continue once conditions improve, but a new threat to divers is the collapse of parts of the vessel.

One room that the divers have been trying to enter near the rear of the ship has been blocked by the partial collapse in a nearby wall, Mr. Ko said.

It’s a room that divers have entered before, but they want to explore more thoroughly as try to reach places that were previously obstructed, he said.

“We will put the priority on the safety of divers when they search through dangerous areas,” Mr. Ko said.

Meanwhile, officials are scrambling to prevent currents from sweeping away articles and bodies from the ship. An object has been found in a location as far as 80 kilometers away from the accident site.

The government has also decided to provide subsidies to cover for any economic losses incurred by fishermen who have been taking part in the rescue operations, such as fuel costs and damage to fish farms.

As of Monday, 275 people have been confirmed dead from the April 16 ferry sinking.

Monday 12 May 2014


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