The South Korean government legally recognized Monday three ferry victims who risked their lives to save others in the Sewol ferry that sank off the southern coast of the country on April 16.
The legal recognition is granted to those who go beyond the call of duty in saving others, the Health and Welfare Ministry said. Once recognized, the bodies of the victims are allowed to be buried in the national cemetery. The bereaved families become eligible for compensation and additional health and education benefits, it added.
Public demand has grown for the legal recognition for the sacrifices made by the Sewol heroes after accounts of their selfless actions were told by a number of ferry survivors.
Park Ji-young, a 22-year-old non-regular crew member, reportedly yielded her lifejacket to a teen passenger and helped others escape from the sinking ferry. When passing the lifejacket, Park reassured the student, saying she would go out after the others were all rescued, the survivor told the media.
After the story was reported, tens of thousands of mourners signed an online petition for the legal recognition of Park to remember the noble death of the young woman.
Two 28-year-old crew members ― Kim Ki-woong and Jung Hyun-sun ― were also legally recognized for their sacrifice on the ill-fated ferry.
When the ship was sinking, both returned to the cabins to help the passengers evacuate. The couple, engaged to each other, was planning to get married this coming fall.
For the legal recognition of a 53-year-old diver who died in the search operations, the ministry postponed the evaluation process, citing insufficient documents. The ministry asked the recognition applicant, Namyangju municipal government in Gyeonggi Province, to submit supplementary documents.
Civilian diver Lee Gwang-wook lost consciousness Tuesday within a few minutes of entering the water and died while receiving treatment. Pneumocephalus, a presence of air within the cranial cavity, was confirmed as the cause of the death, hospital officials said.
Meanwhile, three more funerals for Danwon High School students were held Monday in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province.
More than 1.7 million mourners headed to the memorial altars regionally set up around the country, with about 500,000 visiting the official altar in Ansan.
As of Monday, the ferry death toll stood at 275 with 29 still missing, officials said.
By Lee Hyun-jeong (firstname.lastname@example.org)