“I feel guilty about surviving, I came out alive, but my friends didn’t”– Yang Jeong Won, Sewol Survivor.
As kids, we all love going on school trips with our friends. The night before the trip is quite different, planning what to wear and what to play. It just sounds like one of the best experiences we can ever live, but what if it becomes the most haunting trips of your life.
On April 15th, 2014, a South Korean ferry was carrying around 325 students of Danwon High School, along with 150 passengers and 33 crew members, who were on board to visit Jeju Island. Leaving their homes and bidding goodbyes with joy. It was a trip that the students would never forget.
The next day, the ship made unexpected turns due to poor weather conditions and rising sea waves resulted in tilting, accompanied by a loud noise, and soon it began to sink. “We were having breakfast, and I saw my soup was tilted, we laughed at first, but soon it fell off the table. The captain ordered us to wear life jackets and to stay put inside the room. But at this hour, obeying orders, are what cost the life of my friends”, one of the students said.
Coast guards rescued Captain Lee and crew members first while leaving all the passengers behind. “Do not move. Just stay where you are. It’s dangerous if you move”, were repeatedly announced while the ship was sinking but the water level rose and kids were screaming out of terrors, shouting for help.
Panicked kids started calling and texting their parents and told them not to worry. The media broadcasted wrong information about the survivors, giving false hope to the parents that their kids are alive and safe. There were more fishermen than coastguards, who rescued nearly 70 students who jumped in the water.
When the situation became unrecoverable, President Park Geun-Hye was informed, and some reports claimed she was asleep while the ship was sinking. Unfortunately, out of 476 passengers and crew, 304 died in the disaster, including 250 students, who were told to stay put and waited till their death arrived.
Shamelessly, the Park government was concealing the truth about the casualties and blacklisted artists for publicizing the disaster, leading to a nationwide protest and a yellow ribbon campaign for justice and the impeachment of the President.
Investigation reports say, Sewol was carrying 3,608 tons of cargo, more than three times the limit of 987 tons. None of the vehicles were chained, which resulted in a domino effect when the ferry tilted. Korean Register for Shippings was bribed by the shipping company of Sewol. It received the ship inspection certificate after the modification, which made her dangerously heavy and slightly tilted to the right side but allowed her to sail.
On April 28, 2015, Captain Lee was found guilty of murder, and his sentence increased to life imprisonment, and on March 10, 2017, President Park was impeached after reports of corruption scandal for the Sewol tragedy and oppressing the public protest.
Famous Korean idol, BTS has tributed the survivors in their Spring Day music video, along with other Kpop artists.
To this day, this is the biggest ferry disaster in South Korea and even if justice was achieved or not, what’s done is done. The dead will not come back to life. The parents and students who lost their friends mourn with grief to this day. Some who couldn’t bear the pain, committed suicide, mostly the students, fishermen, and the vice-principal of the high school.
“If people had jumped into the water..they could have been rescued. But we were told not to go out” – Sewol survivor.
Written by: Ashutosh Roy, The North-Eastern Chronicle