South Koreans Accuse Government of Botching Ferry Response

Yellow Ribbons tied by citizens, hoping for miracles, at one random street of Seoul, Image by author.

Yellow ribbons tied along a Seoul street in the hope of miracles following the Sewol ferry disaster. Photo by Lee Yoo Eun.

It's been 14 days since a South Korean ferry capsized with several hundred people on board. Now, 205 people are confirmed dead, with 97 people still missing.

The captain and entire crew of the ferry have since been arrested. Prime Minister Chung Hong-won has resigned amid criticism of the government's delayed response to the disaster. Three people from the Korea Shipping Association's Incheon office have been arrested and accused of destroying evidence.  

As details of the South Korean government's botched handling of the sinking were revealed, anger has grown. 

Online, users have taken aim at authorities and mainstream conservative media for merely parroting the government's excuses: 

The government's abysmal risk management skills, their incompetence and lies, and the media that keeps lying non-stop… All of this has enraged the victims’ families. In the wake of the Sewol ferry disaster, this country's rock bottom has been revealed.

The president has vanished from the news. The concerned government authorities’ gaffes and numerous mistakes and other failures have disappeared from media reports. Just like how in the sinking ferry Sewol, the ship's captain escaped first. 

The media shows footage of devices deployed at the Sewol shipwreck scene and clips of experts during the rescue operation. It seems like the operation is actively under way – if we only look at the media. However, there are no additional survivors besides those initially rescued at the accident scene. There is no progress, but the media keep blabbing. The real scene is totally different than what the media shows.

Outrage has further been stoked by politicians taking advantage of the calamity.

A governing Saeunri party lawmaker is under fire for wrongfully accusing a victim's parent [ko] of being an outsider “who wants to stir up turmoil and grudges against the government”. The lawmaker later explained that she was misled by fake images shared online. 

And police are now investigating a writer [ko] who wrote on Facebook that the “Sewol ferry disaster is a scene directed by Pro-North Korean sympathizers who want to spread confusion and chaos in South Korean society.” 

Now the tactic of branding people “red commies” and “Pro-North [Korean sympathizers]” has become a daily thing. How outrageous is this situation? Everyone accuses the other of being “Pro-North” or “North Korean spies” whenever there is a disagreement. Those people who haven't given up the slightest bit of hope in the Sewol rescue operation, those people are very vulnerable and can easily be hurt by such comments. Watch what you say.

As the whole country is being engulfed in despair and voices that are critical of the government grow stronger, the governing party and their supporters have started wielding the “Pro-North” rhetoric. This environment made me think about what has lead the country into this kind of disaster. If we cant change the leadership which covers up every flaw with the “Pro-North” tactic, we have no answer.


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