Straits Herald April 16, 2020

A former South Korean coast guard chief was indicted in mid-February 2020 for allegedly bungling rescue operations at one of the country’s deadliest maritime disasters, when more than 300 people were killed, most of them schoolchildren.

The 6,825-tonne Sewol capsized off the south coast on 16th April 2014, and many of the students — who were on a school trip — obeyed orders to stay in their cabins as the vessel slowly sank.

The disaster triggered intense public fury when it emerged then-president Park Geun-hye was uncontactable for several hours as the disaster unfolded. 

Kim Suk-kyoon, who led the coast guard at the time of the accident, was indicted on accusations of “professional negligence resulting in death” for failing to take necessary rescue action, said a prosecution representative. 

He is the most senior official to face criminal trial over the sinking, but another 10 current and former coast guard officers were also indicted on the same charges.

The Sewol’s captain Lee Joon-seok — one of the first people to leave the sinking ship, abandoning hundreds of children trapped inside — was convicted of negligence and murder in 2015 and sentenced to life in prison. 

Other crew members were jailed for terms ranging from 18 months to 12 years. – AFP

Today, on 16th April 2020, in remembrance of the sixth anniversary of the Sewol Ferry Disaster, plenty of tweets commemorate the disaster.

A tragic loss of life on the ship, but also many other deaths that followed.

One such death was an apparent suicide by the ferry owner. An arrest warrant was issued for Yoo Byung-eun, the owner of Chonghaejin Marine, which operated Sewol, but he could not be found despite a nationwide search and manhunt. On 22 July 2014, police revealed that they had established that a dead man found in a field 415 kilometres south of Seoul was Yoo.

Another suicide in the weeks that followed the disaster was of the vice principal of Danwon High School, who himself was a survivor of the Sewol.

Korean government culpability was debated then, and is still debated now. Issues ranging from the slow reaction of the Korea Coast Guard (arriving 40 minutes after the first disaster call) was troubling for many. The survivors were mostly saved by nearby vessels who came to the aid of the ferry.