By Ju-min Park and Sohee Kim
A day of mourning for the 304 victims of the Sewol ferry sinking was overtaken by acrimony on Thursday, as organisers called off a ceremony planned to mark its one-year anniversary to protest against the South Korean government’s response to the disaster.
The main group representing bereaved families said the government had let them down again by failing to announce by the anniversary a decision to raise the ship in hopes of finding the bodies of nine victims still missing.
The group’s leader also cited President Park Geun-hye’s decision not to attend the memorial service as a reason for calling it off. Instead, Park visited the southwestern port of Jindo, which had served as a makeshift morgue when the ferry sank on April 16 a year ago.
“We want to say how disappointed we are that the government and the president have made it impossible for the families to hold this memorial service,” the group’s leader, Yoo Gyoung-geun, announced outside the hangar-like structure that houses a memorial altar for the Sewol victims.
“They are going to have to take responsibility,” Yoo said.
The year since the ferry sank during a routine voyage from Incheon to Jeju island has been one of both grief and anger towards the government for the families of victims.
Park’s prime minister was booed off by an angry crowd when he tried to visit the memorial altar in Ansan, home of Danwon High School, which lost 250 of its students on a class trip.
Park was heckled at the port in Jindo, where she paid her respects at the dock lined with yellow flags carrying messages for the victims.
She said the government would begin preparing to raise the 6,800-tonne submerged ship, her clearest indication yet that the government would try to recover it. The families and political opponents have accused the government of dragging its feet.
“I earnestly ask that we step beyond the pain of the Sewol, overcome the adversity and trial and go on the road of creating a new country,” Park said.
In Ansan, a long line of mourners waited in the rain as an outdoor stage for the memorial and rows of chairs stood empty.
The Sewol set off on April 15 last year from Incheon, west of Seoul, for a routine overnight voyage to Jeju with 476 people on board. It capsized while making a sharp turn off Jindo.
It was later found to have been structurally unsound and overloaded, and many of the children followed instructions to stay in their cabins as the crew scrambled to safety in what was widely criticised as a botched rescue operation.