by STEVE HAN
Seven months after the Sewol ferry capsized off of Jindo Island, the South Korean government ceased all underwater search operations on Tuesday as the chances of rescue divers finding the nine remaining victims have become remote.
The announcement came 209 days after the Sewol ferry, carrying 476 passengers, sank in April after failing to handle a sharp turn. Although 172 people were rescued, the death toll has since reached 295 while nine are still missing in the waters. Most of the victims were students at Danwon High School, who boarded the ferry for their field trip at Jeju Island in South Korea’s southern coast.
Lee Joo-young, the minister of maritime policies, said that the body of the ferry is in danger of collapsing and that the forthcoming winter in South Korea could jeopardize the lives of rescue divers, most of whom are volunteers.
“A consensus has been reached that we could potentially experience even more sacrifices of life if we were to inconsiderately force the rescue divers to continue the search operations,” said Lee Joo-young, the minister of maritime policies. “We sincerely apologize to the families of the victims for not being able to keep the promise of finding their loved ones.”
The Sewol tragedy, considered as one of the worst maritime disasters in history, has sacrificed the lives of those who volunteered to take part in the search operations. Two civilian divers died in May while carrying out search operations. In July, a helicopter searching for the remaining bodies crashed and killed five firefighers.
Families of the nine remaining victims have been living inside of a nearby school gym, hoping to learn the fate of their loved ones as soon as they can. When the rescue divers found the body of an 18-year-old girl on Oct. 28, the families held a press conference to express their gratitude for the rescuers’ persistence. No bodies were found for 102 days until the young girl’s body was recovered.
“The responsibility for failing to find the remaining nine people is entirely on me,” Lee said. “I am truly sorry for failing to perform my duties.”
Featured image courtesy of Joongboo Ilbo