South Korea ferry disaster

Three South Korean ferry disaster heroes named as national martyrs

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 May, 2014, 10:13pm
UPDATED : Monday, 12 May, 2014, 10:13pm

South Korea has recognised three people who died saving others in last month's ferry capsize as national "martyrs" - lending a heroic chapter to a disaster narrative dominated by accusations of cowardice, corruption and incompetence.

All three were part-time crew members, including an engaged couple - Kim Ki-woong and Jung Hyun-seon - who could have escaped the sinking vessel but stayed behind to help trapped passengers.

The third was Park Ji-young, 21, the youngest crew member, who became a public hero after it emerged that she had given her life jacket to a passenger as she sought to guide people to safety.

Being designated martyrs entitles them to burial at a national cemetery, and their families will be eligible for financial compensation, medical assistance and other incentives.

The behaviour of the part-timers stood in stark contrast to the captain and most of the crew, who were among the first to abandon ship and have been widely vilified for leaving trapped passengers to die. All 15 surviving crew members, including the captain, have been arrested.

The confirmed death toll from the disaster stood at 275 yesterday, with 29 still unaccounted for as dangerous conditions suspended recovery operations for a third straight day.

The 6,825-tonne ferry Sewol capsized and sank off the southern coast on April 16.