ANSAN/SEOUL, April 16 (Yonhap) -- South Korea held a nationwide memorial service on Monday for the victims of a tragic ferry sinking in 2014 that took more than 300 lives in one of the country's worst maritime disasters.
More than 5,000 mourners congregated at the joint memorial altar in a hall in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province, to mark the fourth anniversary of the sinking of the Sewol ferry, which went down in waters off the southwestern coast on April 16, 2014. The death toll came to 304, mostly high school students on a trip to the resort island of Jeju.
It was the first government-sponsored memorial service held for the Sewol victims. The previous Park Geun-hye administration, under which the accident happened, was blamed for not taking swift actions at the time and making inadequate efforts to care for the victims and take responsibility.
Shortcomings of the Park government's handling of the tragedy created ripples of public outcry that became one of the triggers leading to moves toward her impeachment and ultimate ouster from office last year.
The joint memorial service began at 3 p.m., with a video entitled "I Am Home" being played.
Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon vowed in a eulogy to make full-fledged efforts toward a safer Korea.
"The Moon Jae-in administration will make utmost efforts to make the Republic of Korea a safer place, by always remembering the Sewol and completely uncovering the truth of the disaster and learning from the tragedy."
Prior to the formal start of the ceremony, about 1,000 participants, many of whom were citizens unrelated to the victims' families, went on a 3.3 km march from the education office of Ansan, passing through Danwon High School -- which most of the student victims attended -- and the memorial hall.
They held banners that read "We will remember, We will act," and wore yellow ribbons on their wrists or held handkerchiefs of the same color, which has become the symbol of remembrance of the accident.
Some participants called on the current liberal Moon Jae-in government to step up efforts toward uncovering the exact cause of the accident.
"I took part in the march thinking that it's not over yet for the bereaved families and I wanted to give them support," Baek Jae-ho, 37, from Seoul said.
Chang Jeong-hee, a 52-year-old mother from Suwon, said, "As a parent, I feel so sorry for the children who could've been saved but weren't. I will stand up for them till we find out the truth."
The authorities under the previous government cited an overloading of freight as the official cause of the sinking. But it was never scientifically confirmed.
Other regions, including Busan and South Jeolla Province held their own memorial services for the victims.
The Sewol ferry was hoisted from the seabed in April last year and pulled onto land in a port in Mokpo, not far from the site of the accident. Of the nine victims who had still been unaccounted for, the search team found remains of four victims inside the rusted ship.
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