A page dedicated to news about Sewol ferry and Sewol families.
The Sewol story
'After the Sewol' also directed by Neil P. George (and Matthew Root) will be available on iTunes, amazon and google play soon.
The sinking of MV Sewol (Hangul: 세월호 침몰 사고; Hanja: 世越號沈沒事故), also referred to as the Sewol Ferry Disaster, occurred on the morning of 16 April 2014, when the passenger/ro-ro ferry was en route from Incheon to Jeju in South Korea. The Japanese-built South Korean ferry sank while carrying 476 people, mostly secondary school students from Danwon High School (Ansan City). The 6,825-ton vessel sent a distress signal from about 2.7 kilometres (1.7 mi) north of Byeongpungdo at 08:58 Korea Standard Time (23:58 UTC, 15 April 2014).
In total, 304 passengers and crew members died in the disaster. Of the approximately 172 survivors, more than half were rescued by fishing boats and other commercial vessels that arrived at the scene approximately 40 minutes after the South Korean coast guard.
The sinking of Sewol resulted in widespread social and political reaction within South Korea. Many criticized the actions of the captain and most of the crew. More criticized the ferry operator and the regulators who oversaw its operations.Additional criticism was directed at the South Korean government and media for its disaster response (including the poor showing of the then Korean coastguard) and attempts to downplay government culpability.
On 15 May 2014, the captain and three crew members were charged with murder, while the other 11 members of the crew were indicted for abandoning the ship. An arrest warrant was also issued for Yoo Byung-eun, the owner of Chonghaejin Marine, which operated Sewol, but he could not be found despite a nationwide 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. Foul play was ruled out, but police say they have yet to establish the cause of Yoo's death.
On the first anniversary of the disaster, as part of commemorations for the victims of the sinking of Sewol, 4,475 people held electronic candles to form the shape of the ferry in an attempt to set a Guinness World Record for the largest torchlight image.
During the capsizing and the subsequent reporting, the government's announcements, as well as those from the media, were inconsistent and inaccurate. An editorial in The Huffington Post stated that the governmental reports were like a rubber band, 'increasing at one moment and decreasing at another.' Newspapers such as The JoongAng Ilbo, MBN, and JTBC later made corrections and apologies concerning their earlier reports. Conspiracy theories were also present in the aftermath of the sinking.
At 8:58 a.m. (KST) on 16 April 2014, the Mokpo Coast Guard dispatched patrol vessel No. 123 in response to the first report of the incident. After receiving the news of the capsizing from the Jeollanam Provincial Government, the Republic of Korea Navy 3rd Fleet sent a Gumdoksuri-class patrol vessel (PKG) to the accident site at 9:03 a.m.; the Navy dispatched another PKG at 9:09 a.m.
At 9:04 a.m., the government created the Central Disaster Countermeasure Headquarters (중앙재난안전대책본부), as an organization which would directly report to the government. The South Korean coast guard set up a rescue operations headquarters at 9:10 a.m.
Patrol vessel No.123 arrived at the scene near 9:30 a.m. as the first ship to reach the site after the incident. During the time between the dispatch and the operations, members failed to raise Sewol, and chose to call for other ships on the radio. Consequently, members on the vessel had not directly communicated with Sewol, and were not aware of the content of the communication between Sewol and the Jindo VTS on arrival. At the time of arrival, Sewol had listed about 50 to 60 degrees to port. When the vessel arrived, members made announcements for five minutes, calling people to abandon ship and jump into the water. The vessel began rescue operations at 9:38 a.m., with the dispatching of a rubber boat. Passengers who had reached the deck or jumped into the water were rescued, including the captain, but rescue members could not get inside the ship due to the list. However, people trapped inside the pilothouse were rescued by breaking through the windows.
At 9:35 a.m., the Korean Ministry of National Defense started operating Counter-disaster Headquarters (재난대책본부). At 9:40 a.m., the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries declared the accident to be the highest state of emergency in terms of naval accidents; consequently, the Central Accident Response Headquarters (중앙사고수습본부) was established. At the same time, the Ministry of Health and Welfare sent emergency vehicles and the first squad of the Disaster Medical Support Team (재난의료지원팀) to Jindo. At 11:28 a.m., the Korea Navy's Ship Salvage Unit (SSU) was reported to have been deployed for the operations.
At 2:42 p.m., 150 special forces personnel from the ROK Army Special Warfare Command, including 40 scuba divers, were sent for the operation. At this point, 196 personnel, including 82 in the SSU and 114 in the ROK Naval Special Warfare Flotilla were involved in the operations.At 3:07, the regional government of the Gyeonggi Province was reported to have started operating the Prevention and Countermeasures Headquarters (재난안전대책본부). After 5 p.m., units from the SSU began undersea operations. At 5:13, the Gyeonggi-do Office of Education was reported to have started operating the Ansan Danwon High School Accident Countermeasures Report Compiling Headquarters (안산 단원고 사고대책 종합상황본부). At 8:00, operations investigating the ship's hull were ceased.
As of 22:03, the following units were involved in rescue operations: Naval forces include sailors from the 3rd Fleet (제3함대; 第三艦隊), a Dokdo-class amphibious assault ship, a Chungmugong Yi Sun-sin-class destroyer, and an Ulsan-class frigate. The ROK Air Force sent support units such as the Lockheed C-130 Hercules, Sikorsky HH-60 Pave Hawk, and HH-47 variant of the Boeing CH-47 Chinook. The ROK Army sent units including 150 Special Warfare Command soldiers and 11 ambulances.
A U.S. Navy MH-60S Seahawk helicopterconducted search and rescue operations at the request of the South Korean navy near where Sewol sank, on 17 April 2014.
Starting on 17 April, Undine Marine Industries Co., a privately held company, began to lead the search for missing passengers. At 12:30 a.m., hull investigations were started by the ROK Coast Guard with the help of flares. As of 6:00 a.m., 171 ships, 29 aircraft and 30 divers were involved in the rescue effort. The Korea Coast Guard had assigned 20 divers in teams of two. The ROK Navy had also assigned 8 divers. However, the coast guard prevented navy divers from participating while waiting for divers from Undine Industries. At 7:24 a.m., civilian groups of expert divers were reported to be helping out in the rescue operations. During the morning, the number of divers involved in the operations reached 555. The Navy also established a military control tower on a Dokdo-class amphibious assault ship. Starting around 2:00 p.m., rescue operations were practically stopped due to bad weather conditions. A marine crane arrived on the scene at night.
At 10:50 a.m. on 18 April, the ROK Coast guard began pumping in air to support possible air pockets. At the same time, divers entered the capsized ship's hull but only gained access to the cargo deck. The divers' entrance was later labeled a 'failure' by the Central Disaster Countermeasure Headquarters. On 19 April, a Navy petty officer who was injured during rescue operations died. On 21 April, remotely operated underwater vehicles began to be used for operations. On 24 April, the CR2000 'Crabster' robot was sent to the rescue site. On 6 May, a diver working for Undine Marine Industries died during the search. This was followed by another diver's death on 30 May.On 17 July, a firefighting helicopter returning from rescue operations crashed near an apartment complex, killing all five officers aboard and injuring a high school student.
The South Korean government announced on April 22, 2015 that it had approved plans to salvage the wreckage of Sewol in hopes of finding more information about the sinking and recovering the bodies of the nine victims still missing. The plan was initially put forward by president Park Geun-hye, and was endorsed by the Minister of Public Safety and Security, Park In-yong. The operation is expected to take as long as 18 months and to cost between $91 and $137 million.
Survivors and casualties
At 11:01 a.m., Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) began reporting that all students had been rescued; this news was re-reported by other news organizations, and continued until 11:26 a.m. Around 11 a.m. (KST), officers working for the educational departments for the Gyeonggi Province sent text messages to the students' parents stating that all students had been rescued. The officers' belief was apparently confirmed by a police officer in the Danwon Police Department. Initial reports stated that rescuers retrieved 368 people from cold waters as the passengers, mostly students, had jumped overboard when the vessel started sinking; the South Korean government later corrected this statement, saying 295 passengers remained missing. 22 of the 29 crew survived, including 15 responsible for the navigation.
Early in the rescue efforts, a 27-year-old female crew member was found dead inside the sinking vessel and a male high school student died shortly after arriving at a hospital.
In its April 17 morning edition, The Chosun Ilbo reported that 174 people had been rescued, 4 had died, and 284 were missing. According to CNN and its affiliate YTN, six people died. News1 Korea reported that, as of 8:00 a.m. on April 17, 179 people had been rescued, 6 had died and 290 were missing. Three more people were found dead at 11:00 a.m. and the confirmed death toll rose to 9. At 10 p.m., Yonhap news confirmed that the death toll had risen to 14. By the morning of 18 April, the death toll had risen to 28. On April 19, the death toll rose to 36. By 20 April, the death toll reached 49. By 6 May, a diver searching the sunken ferry had died; not including the diver, the death toll in the ferry disaster rose to 264, with 38 people still missing. By 10 May 2014, the death toll reached 275, with dozens more still missing. By 21 May, the death toll had risen to 288, leaving 16 missing. As of 21 May, the 16 missing were 7 Danwon High School students, 3 Danwon High School teachers, 4 other passengers, and 2 cabin crew members. On 5 and 6 June, one dead passenger and one dead cabin crew member were found, bringing the casualty count to 290, while the number of missing passengers was reduced to 14. By 9 June 2014, a 28-year-old female Danwon High School teacher as well as a 17-year-old male Danwon high school student were found bringing the death toll to 292 and leaving 12 missing. On 24 June, the body of a female student was recovered bringing the death toll to 293 and lowering the missing to 11, including 5 Danwon High School students. The death toll stands at 294 as of 22 July 2014, with 10 missing; the date marked the recovery of the last cabin crew member.
U.S. Marines assigned to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit responding to the scene of the Sewol sinking on 16 April 2014.
- The American warship USS Bonhomme Richard and her helicopters assisted in the air-sea rescue operation. However, the rescue helicopter did not get the approval of the South Korean navy, so it could not participate in the rescue.[clarification needed] USNS Safeguard was sent to South Korea to take part in the rescue operation.
- The Japan Coast Guard offered support, as well as a message of sympathy and condolences from the Japanese government. The South Korean coast guard declined the offer, saying that, while the offer was welcome, special assistance was not needed on this occasion.
As of 17 April 2014, the South Korean coast guard concluded that an "unreasonably sudden turn" to starboard, made between 8:48 and 8:49 a.m. (KST), was the cause of the capsizing. According to the Coast Guard, the sudden turn caused the cargo to shift to port, causing the ship to list and to eventually become unmanageable for the crew. The existence of the sudden turn has been confirmed by the analysis of the ship's Automatic Identification Systemdata. The crew of the ferry has agreed that the main cause was the sudden turn. Experts such as Lee Sang-yun (Korean: 이상윤), a professor and head of the environment/maritime technology institute of the Pukyong National University, have also agreed.
Overloading and improperly secured cargo are also being seen as direct causes. MV Sewol was carrying 3,608 tons of cargo, more than three times the limit of 987 tons. It is estimated that the actual cargo on the day of the accident weighed 2,215 tons, including 920 tons of trucks, cars and heavy equipment, 131 tons of containers and 1,164 tons of general goods. The cargo included building materials destined for naval bases on the island of Jeju.
The overloading was also previously noted by an off-duty captain and the first mate. Lee Sang-yun also proposed overloading as a cause. According to the off-duty captain of Sewol, the ship owners ignored his warning that the ship should not carry so much cargo because she would not be stable.
Sewol was carrying only 580 tons of ballast water, much less than the recommended 2,030 tons; this would make the vessel more prone to list and capsize. South Korean newspaper The Chosun Ilbo argued that the discharging of ballast water was a cause of the incident. The crew had reportedly pumped out hundreds of tons of ballast water from the bottom of the ship in order to accommodate the additional cargo.
Secondary causes also contributed to the capsizing of the ferry by decreasing the restoring force. The crew of the ferry stated that the lack of restoring force was a cause of the disaster. The Prosecution/Police Coalition Investigations Headquarters (검경합동수사본부) is currently investigating secondary causes which could have lessened the ship's restoring force.
Renovations which added extra passenger cabins have been proposed as a main secondary cause by Kim Gill-soo (Korean: 김길수), a professor in the maritime transport technological department at the Korea Maritime University. This possible cause has also been supported by the captain, as well as Lee Sang-yun.
Captain and crew
On 19 April, the captain of the ferry was arrested on suspicion of negligence of duty, violation of maritime law and other infringements. The captain had abandoned the ship with passengers still aboard the ferry, while South Korean law explicitly requires captains to remain on the shipduring a disaster. Two other crew members, a helmsman and the third mate, were also arrested on that day on suspicion of negligence and manslaughter. By 26 April, twelve further arrests had been made with the whole crew responsible for navigation in detention.
On 15 May, Captain Lee Jun-seok, First Mate Kang Won-sik (who was responsible for managing the ship's ballast), Second Mate Kim Young-ho, and Chief Engineer Park Gi-ho were indicted on charges of homicide through gross negligence (also described as murder), which carry a potential death penalty. The other eleven crew members face lesser charges of abandoning the ship and ship safety offences.
Three crew members, Park Ji-young, Jeong Hyun-seon, and Kim Ki-woong, are credited by survivors with staying aboard the ferry to help passengers escape. All three went down with the sinking vessel.
On 8 May, the chief executive of Chonghaejin Marine, Kim Han-sik, was arrested and faced charges including causing death by negligence. Four other company officials were also taken into custody.
The Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries revoked Chonghaejin Marine's license to operate ferries on the Incheon-Jeju Island route in May 2014.
Yoo Byung-eun, former chairman of Chonghaejin Marine, ignored Incheon District Prosecutors' Office summonses, and went into hiding. On 22 May, the Incheon District Court issued an arrest warrant and Korean authorities offered a ₩50 million (US$48,800) reward for information leading to the arrest of Yoo. On 25 May, the reward was raised tenfold to ₩500 million (US$488,000). On 21 July 2014, it was reported that a body found in a field in June was believed to be Yoo's.
The disaster raised questions regarding governmental regulation of shipping in South Korea. Shipping is regulated by the Korean Shipping Association, which is also an industry trade group, which experts consider a likely conflict of interest. In addition, government regulators outside the Association frequently move to jobs as part of the association after their government service. Yun Jong-hwui, a professor at Korea Maritime and Ocean University, notes that while South Korean regulations are strong, they are often poorly enforced.
A memorial wall is near the Danwon High School, where most of the victims were from.
A memorial ceremony in Hwarang Public Garden, a park near the Danwon High School
Pope Francis wearing a yellow ribbon on his 2014 state visit to South Korea. Before his visit, he said that he "hoped the South Korean people take the Sewol tragedy as an occasion for moral and spiritual rebirth."
In addition to reaction against the actions of the captain and much of the crew of Sewol, there has been a much wider political reaction to the disaster. Criticism has ranged from anger at the lax regulatory environment which may have contributed to the safety violations that could have sunk Sewol, to anger about the rescue operations, to anger at Park Geun-hye, the President of South Korea, whose approval ratings fell from a high of 71 percent before the disaster to "the 40 percent range" weeks afterwards.
Political reaction to the Sewol sinking has been intensified by a series of events. A prominent South Korean politician from the ruling Saenuri Party, Chung Mong-joon, was forced to apologize when his son wrote a controversial Facebook post criticizing the public for criticizing the government over the disaster. Many parents of the victims of the tragedy have been expressing deep anger at the government, ranging from reportedly berating Prime Minister Jung Hong-won to shouting at President Park Geun-hye, to parents staging protests at the presidential palace itself, partly inflamed by a reported remark by a senior news editor at the government-influenced Korean Broadcasting System that the number of dead in the ferry tragedy was "not many, compared with the number of people killed in traffic accidents each year".
Barack Obama, the President of the United States, sent his condolences, stated that the United States would help in the search for survivors, and during a state visit to South Korea presented a magnolia tree from the White House to the high school. Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe offered sympathy to the victims. Truong Tan Sang, the President of Vietnam, as well as the deputy prime minister and the minister of foreign affairs, sent their condolences to Yun Byung-se, South Korea's Minister of Foreign Affairs. Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong sent their condolences to the president of South Korea. Xi Jinping, the President of China, sent messages on condolences to Park.
On 27 April, Jung Hong-won, the prime minister of South Korea, accepted responsibility and announced his resignation.
On 29 April, South Korean president Park Geun-hye indirectly apologized for the government's response to the ferry sinking.
On 30 April, North Korea sent its condolences.
On 18 May 2014, the BBC reported that President Park Geun-hye announced South Korea "plans to break up its coastguard" after it had failed to respond well during the MV Sewol ferry disaster. According to Park, "investigation and information roles will be transferred to the Korean police while the rescue and salvage operation and ocean security roles will be transferred to the Department for National Safety which will be newly established".
On 17 April, a representative of the Cheonghaejin Marine Company apologized for the incident. The chairman and CEO of Korean Register of Shipping, Chon Young-Kee, resigned on 28 April, following raids on KR offices by South Korean prosecutors.
On 18 April, the rescued vice principal of Danwon High School, Kang Min-kyu, 52, committed suicide by hanging himself. Police stated that a note was found in his wallet. Kang had organized the field trip that had brought the high school party aboard the ship, and had written in his two-page note that "Surviving alone is too painful when 200 lives are unaccounted for ... I take full responsibility." The note ended with a request that his body be cremated and the ashes scattered over the site of the accident, "that I might be a teacher in heaven to those kids whose bodies have not been found."
On 22 April, a netizen made a post encouraging others to take part in the 'KakaoTalk yellow ribbon wearing campaign.' The image accompanying the post had a caption stating, 'One small movement, big miracles'. Since then, the yellow ribbon has gained meaning to symbolize mourning. The ribbons are prominent in social media, sometimes as profile photos. Celebrities such as Jo Kwon and Hye-rim Park have joined the movement. In 2017 the yellow ribbon campaign received renewed media coverage as various musicians wrote songs with thinly-veiled references to the yellow ribbon or were seen wearing the ribbon during performances and celebrities posted images of the ribbon on their social media sites to commemorate the third year after the disaster.
On 17 April 2015, a day after the first anniversary of the sinking, 4,475 participants holding electronic candles formed the shape of the Sewol ferry at the commemoration event titled ‘The Saddest Challenge in the World’ in Seoul Plaza in front of City Hall. They were attempting a Guinness World Record for largest torchlight vigil image.