On April 16, 2014, the dilapidated MV Sewol ferry teetered dangerously before capsizing and sinking in cold waters off the port city of Incheon, West of Seoul. With it, it took more than 300 lives — most of them children from a single school on a field trip.
A year later, on the eve of one of South Korea's worst marine disasters to date, relatives of the children, along with some of the 172 survivors of the incident, clambered aboard a different ferry and traveled to the very spot the passenger and cargo-laden boat went under. Some floated white chrysanthemums, while other parents tossed their children's favorite snacks into the water.
An hour-long boat ride away, at a pier at the southwestern island of Jindo that has become a shrine to the victims, family members held vigils for the dead, surrounded by photographs and posters of their loved ones, handwritten notes, yellow ribbons, and more food offerings. The same harbor has served as a launching spot for government-led investigation and salvage efforts, which many across the nation believe are too little, too late.
At Jindo Thursday, South Korean President Park Geun-hye vowed to raise the waterlogged body of the Sewol, saying she will take "the necessary steps to salvage the ship at the earliest possible date."
Calls to raise the more than 7,500-ton _Sewol_from the sea floor without damaging it — which would cost anywhere between an estimated $91 million to $137 million and take more than a year to complete — have been the subject of ongoing controversy and a nationwide petition that has also called for more accountability, independent investigations, and recovery of the nine bodies that remain missing.
South Korea's National Assembly recently adopted a resolution stating that such a move would ease "the minds of the victims, survivors and bereaved families... as well as those of all the citizens."
The Republic of Korea Coast Guard works at the site of ferry sinking accident off the coast of Jindo Island
The anger directed at officials was palpable on the anniversary of the ship's sinking, with relatives barring Park's entrance to an memorial altar at the harbor, while grieving families also turned away Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo from the remembrance hall for the victims.
The captain of the Sewol ferry leaving the ship in underwear as it sank off the southwest coast, while hundreds of high school students remained in their cabins, according to instructions provided by the crew. Video via Republic of Korea Coast Guard
South Korean officials came under fire early in the days after the disaster for failing to impose various safety and regulatory measures that would have prevented the unseaworthy 18-year-old ship, which was carrying more than twice the legal limit of cargo at the time, to operate. Public outrage was also directed at the ferry company and members of the crew who escaped in lifeboats as the Sewol tilted dangerously, leaving the children and others onboard to drown in the hull where they had been instructed to stay.
The ship's captain, who had left his helmsman to steer the ferry at the time it took a fatal sharp turn and began to list, was one of the first to flee. Lee Joon-seok, 69, along with 14 other crew members were later sentenced to between 5 and 36 years each for negligence, abandonment, and violating "seaman's law."
In all, 139 people involved in the incident, including ferry company officials, crew members, and shipping regulators, were arrested.