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Legal recognition sought for Sewol heroes

Search efforts continue: Concerns raised over missing bodies

South Koreans are calling for legal recognition of the Sewol heroes, who sacrificed their lives when the ferry sank off the country’s southern coast on April 16.

On Friday, the Incheon city government applied for legal recognition of the sacrifice of two of the city’s residents ― crew member Jung Hyun-seon and part-time worker Kim Ki-woong.

Jung and Kim, both 28, died while helping passengers escape from the sinking ferry.

It was later revealed that the two were engaged to each other and had planned to get married this year.

The legal recognition is given to those who go beyond the call of duty in saving others.

Once given legal recognition, they are eligible for burial in the national cemetery. Their bereaved families will also be eligible for compensation and other health and education benefits.

Once official applications are received, the Health and Welfare Ministry will evaluate whether the victims are suitable for recognition. 
People pay their respects at a joint memorial altar for the ferry disaster victims in front of City Hall in Seoul on Monday. (Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)
People pay their respects at a joint memorial altar for the ferry disaster victims in front of City Hall in Seoul on Monday. (Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)

Thousands of mourners have also signed an online petition to legally recognize 22-year-old crew member Park Ji-young, who gave her lifejacket to a passenger and helped evacuate others. Since April 18, more than 51,000 people have signed the petition for Park.

Mourners are also seeking legal recognition for two 17-year-old victims ― Jung Cha-woong and Choi Duk-ha. Jung gave his lifejacket to a classmate before jumping off the ferry, the classmate reported. Only Jung’s friend survived. The other student, Choi, was the first person who called emergency services about the sinking ship. Choi’s call alerted the authorities to the situation ahead of the crew.

Along with the movement for legal recognition, a large number of mourners have visited the temporary memorial altar in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province, to express their condolences.

As of Monday afternoon, more than 170,000 condolers had visited the memorial altar since Wednesday.

On Monday, a dozen local governments opened their own altars at the public’s request for venues to commemorate the victims.

Over 7,300 mourners visited the memorial altar in the capital, which the city temporarily set up at Seoul Plaza.

The official joint memorial altar will be opened in a public park in Ansan from Tuesday.

Meanwhile, concerns about the loss of missing passengers’ bodies have been raised as the search efforts slowed due to deteriorating conditions near Jindo Island.

Bad weather and high waves have thwarted search operations, allowing the recovery of only one body over the weekend. With one more body recovered on Monday, the death toll stood at 189, with 113 still missing as of 4 p.m.

Of the recovered bodies, 45 were found outside the ferry, the rescue team said, suggesting the possibility of bodies being swept outside the vessel.

To prevent any bodies from being lost, the maritime authorities have installed a net around the ferry wreck. They have also dispatched several vessels to monitor a 60-kilometer zone around the ferry.

The rescue team is planning to use small explosives and wire cutters to open an entrance to the ferry as part of efforts to speed up search operations. The small bombs, however, will only be employed with the consent of the families of the missing, officials said.

As of Monday, Coast Guard and Navy divers had scoured more than half of the compartments in the ferry, excluding those without passengers, officials said. The divers excluded 47 out of 111 compartments as there was “no possibility” that passengers would be in those, the Coast Guard said.

By Lee Hyun-jeong (