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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on April 17)

All Headlines 07:13 April 17, 2019

Remembering Sewol ferry
Time to focus on lesson of maritime tragedy

It has been five years since the sinking of the ferry Sewol on April 16, 2014, during the previous Park Geun-hye administration.

Many Koreans still remember the shock of the nation's worst maritime accident in which more than 304 people died. Many of the victims were students and teachers from Danwon High School in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province, who were headed to Jeju Island on a field trip.

Various memorial events took place at Mokpo Port and other venues associated with the ferry and the victims. The events have renewed public attention to the sinking, which has triggered intense social and political conflict that has lingered in Korean society even after so much time has passed.

Many Koreans blamed the previous Park administration for not properly dealing with the accident in the initial stages, resulting in the loss of so many lives. Although Park was removed from office amid a huge corruption scandal, she has continued to be blamed heavily for the ferry sinking particularly because of the mystery of her whereabouts during the early hours of the accident.

The families of the victims are still seeking the truth behind the maritime disaster. An association representing them and relevant civic groups held a press conference in Gwanghwamun Square Monday and urged the government to carry out a thorough probe and punishment of officials and institutions they deemed responsible. They listed former President Park among other officials who failed to do their jobs during the accident. They pointed out that so far, only one officer from the Korea Coast Guard has been punished. They vowed to organize a nationwide campaign to continue bringing justice to those responsible.

This has invited some ugly reactions from conservatives. Cha Myung-jin, a former lawmaker of the Grand National Party, a predecessor of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP), put up an extremely hostile message on his social media where he slammed the families of the Sewol victims as greedy and accused them of continuing to take advantage of the tragedy. The LKP has decided to refer him to its ethics committee for disciplinary measures.

It is highly regrettable that after five years, fact-finding efforts have not yielded any significant outcome and the causes of the sinking remain unclear. Korean society is still divided on the activities of the Sewol families and relevant civic groups, including their prolonged sit-in at Gwanghwamun Square. They only recently removed the Sewol tents in the heart of the capital after establishing a memorial instead, but this has also brought controversy.

President Moon Jae-in took office vowing to build a safe society. But there have been several accidents since he took office in various sectors that could have been avoided.

It is important to continue uncovering the truth about the ferry sinking and punish those responsible. But it is now time to end political division over the accident and focus on its lesson, which is to improve public safety.

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