"We Will Not Forget": Sewol Ferry Disaster 10th Anniversary Exposes Unhealed Wounds

Protest banner in English and Korean: "We want the truth of the Sewol ferry tragedy"
Credit: Simon Im

The weather in South Korea on April 16, 2024 was exceptionally sunny, not unlike that fateful day exactly 10 years ago when the Sewol ferry carrying 476 passengers, including 325 students from Danwon High School, tragically sank off the country's southwestern coast. But for the families of the 304 victims who perished, the clear skies belied the cloud of unresolved anguish, frustration and anger that continues to shroud their lives a decade later.

Nationwide commemorations marking the 10th anniversary of the Sewol ferry disaster saw bereaved families, activists and citizens come together not just to remember those lost, but to voice their enduring pain and underscore the work that remains unfinished in securing accountability from those they hold responsible for their loved ones' deaths.

"Even after 10 years, the pain is still piercing and raw," said Lee Keum-hui, who lost her daughter Eun-hwa on the Sewol. "People tell us to move on, but how can we when we still don't have the answers we need? When my child's death still feels so wrong and unjust?"

At the main memorial ceremony held at Hwarang Recreation Park in Ansan, the city that was home to most of the student victims, over 2,000 people gathered to pay tribute. Parents, siblings and friends of the dead and missing clutched framed photographs of the children whose faces remain forever young, many unable to hold back tears as a roll call of the Danwon High School victims' names was read aloud.

"For Lee and other families, the grief is compounded by anger and a sense of betrayal over what they perceive as a lack of a full reckoning for the failures that led to the Sewol's sinking and botched rescue efforts. A focal point of their demands was a renewed call for legal consequences for the officials who oversaw the disaster response and for then-President Park Geun-hye, who was impeached and removed from office in 2017 on separate corruption charges.

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Jamie Larson