South Korean relatives mourn victims of Sewol ferry disaster a year on
The sinking of a passenger boat in which 304 lost their lives continues to cause controversy
More than 100 relatives of victims of South Korea's Sewol ferry disaster tearfully cast flowers into the sea yesterday at an emotional memorial event on the eve of the tragedy's first anniversary.
In bright sunshine and on a calm sea, the relatives were taken by boat to the large yellow buoy that marks the site where the ferry sank on April 16 last year with the loss of 304 lives - most of them high school students.
Lying on the seabed 40 metres below, the sunken ferry remains a highly sensitive topic of heated debate a year later - not least over the question of whether it should be raised to the surface.
Victims' families have threatened to boycott a semi-official memorial service today unless the government makes an immediate commitment to salvaging the 6,825-tonne Sewol - an operation that would cost US$110 million (HK$852 million).
The relatives also continue to stage regular protests calling for a fully independent inquiry into the sinking, arguing that a committee created to probe the causes has been compromised by the inclusion of government officials in key posts.
As the boat carrying the families yesterday neared the scene of the accident off the southern island of Jindo, weeping relatives lined the deck on both sides, clutching white flowers and small mementos of their loved ones.
Nearly all wore the yellow jackets that have become a uniform of solidarity and grief.
At the site itself, the sound of crying and wailing grew louder, and some relatives had to be restrained as they climbed the lower rungs of the deck railing after tossing flowers into the water.
"I cried a lot today," said Jang Hoon, 45, who lost his student son. "It was a difficult trip. I couldn't stop thinking about my son's face the whole time."
The overloaded Sewol was carrying 476 people, including 325 students from the same high school in Ansan city, when it sank. Only 75 students survived.
The emergency response was widely criticised for being slow, uncoordinated and unfocused. President Park Geun-hye subsequently vowed an overhaul of national safety standards.