Sign towards Harland & Wolff. Belfast, N. Ireland. © Matt Lemon Photography. All Rights Reserved.
One of the most striking landmarks of Belfast are Samson and Goliath, the Harland & Wolff gantry cranes. While the heavy industrial company is now mostly involved in offshore renewable energy, its biggest claim to fame is having built the RMS Titanic, and among the many murals that one finds all over Belfast, there are many telling the story of the British passenger liner that sank in the North Atlantic Ocean on April 15th, 1912, after colliding with an iceberg during its maiden voyage from Southampton, UK to New York City, US. The sinking of the Titanic caused the deaths of more than 1,500 people in one of the deadliest peacetime maritime disasters in modern history.
102 years and a day later, on April 16th, 2014, the South Korean ferry Sewol capsized en route from Incheon to Jeju Island, while carrying 476 people, most of them secondary school students from Danwon High School in Ansan. At the time of writing, 212 people are confirmed dead, with 90 missing and feared dead, making the Sewol sinking one of the worst maritime disasters in Korean history. As the rescue and recovery mission continues, yellow ribbons have become the symbol of solidarity with the missing teenagers’ families and hopes that some of them might still be found alive.
I was thinking of writing about Edward Smith, the heroic captain of the Titanic who adhered to the tradition that the captain goes down with the ship, and about Sewol captain Lee Jun-seok who violated that principle and was one of the first to leave the sinking ferry. But there are enough articles and videos in the media about this terrible tragedy, and I don’t feel I have anything to add, other than to express how unimaginably sad it makes me that so many teenagers have lost their lives and so many families have lost their loved ones. Frankly, although the slogan under the yellow ribbon says “One small step can create a big miracle”, I believe there is no hope that anyone will be rescued alive. The miracle I hope for is that the survivors and all families and friends will be able to overcome this incredible trauma and find happiness again one day.
In March 2017, nearly three years after the ferry’s sinking, a salvage operation began to raise the wreck of the Sewol, and on March 31, just as former president Park Geun Hye was arrested, the Sewol safely arrived at the port of Mokpo, where it was placed in a drydock to start a search for evidence and the remains of nine victims who were still missing.
Please click here to read stories of the victims in English translation (or here in Korean). “Sewol Truth” is seeking volunteer translators and editors to share more of these stories. Please consider contributing to the project.
Below, you can watch the documentary “Diving Bell: The Truth Shall Not Sink with Sewol”, directed by Lee Sang-ho and Ahn Hae-ryong, which premiered at the 2014 Busan Film Festival amid much controversy.
Sang Ho Lee and Hae Ryong Ahn’s Diving Bell unearthed the South Korean government’s incompetency in dealing with the disaster, as well as the corruption of the media. The film comprises mostly news footage, voice overs, and interviews conducted and collected by the journalist Lee during the crisis. Diving Bell was also at the forefront of protecting freedom of speech. Prior to the documentary’s premiere at Busan, festival director Yong Kwan Lee was pressured by the city’s mayor not to show it. As Joong Ang News reported, the festival screened the film despite the warnings, claiming its right to freedom of speech and artistic expression.