[Ferry Disaster] Poor handling of disaster adds to despair

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Apr 21, 2014 - 16:47
  • Updated : Apr 22, 2014 - 08:01
Families of the Sewol’s missing passengers wait for news behind the police line at Paengmok Port on Jindo Island, South Jeolla Province, Monday. ( Yonhap)
The government’s clumsy handling of the ferry disaster is further deepening the despair and anger of the families of the victims.

The grief-stricken families have been infuriated by the flawed first responses to the sinking of the ferry Sewol in waters off the country’s southwestern coast, the conflicting numbers of survivors and the slow rescue process.

Their anger came to a head last Sunday as the rescue process did not pick up pace despite their tearful appeals for more aggressive efforts to search for their loved ones trapped in the sunken ship since last Wednesday.

Some 100 marched on the streets of Jindo Island, South Jeolla Province, that day, saying they would walk all the way to Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul to protest what they called the government’s “haphazard” management of the nation’s worst maritime disaster since 1993.

Their indignation was caused largely by the government’s failure to save as many survivors as possible when the ship sank.

By the time maritime police arrived at the scene, most of the ship was submerged. The first batch of divers for the rescue operations numbered only 20, raising the ire of the anxious families. The number of the dead and missing was nearly 300.

The number of divers surged to 500 two days after the sinking. Families have criticized the government authorities for squandering the “critical period of time” to save those caught in the vessel.

The families also berated the state authorities for their failure to come up with effective ways to speed up the rescue operations.

Since the first day of the disaster, they had called on the rescue team to set up a barge at the scene, from which divers could prepare for their search operations more quickly and efficiently. But only on Saturday did the state authorities do so.

Since last Wednesday, the families had also called on rescuers to bring in squid fishing boats with large fish-gathering lamps to help with the nighttime rescue operations. But the boats were not mobilized until Saturday.

The families also wanted seasoned civilian divers to be mobilized from the first day of the disaster onward, but they began participating in the rescue efforts some two days after the sinking.

The government authorities explained to the families that given poor underwater visibility and strong tidal currents, sending civilian divers underwater right away was not easy. But their explanation did not help placate the families.

Families’ anger deepened further as the government agencies reported conflicting numbers of survivors. For the first several days, different organizations presented different numbers.

By Song Sang-ho