After 6 months, ferry disaster remains political issue in S. Korea

October 15, 2014
Flags written with the names of 10 victims of the Sewol sinking wave in the wind in Jindo. (Hyung Min-woo/Yonhap)

Flags written with the names of 10 victims of the Sewol sinking wave in the wind in Jindo. (Hyung Min-woo/Yonhap)

SEOUL (Yonhap) — Rival political parties on Wednesday marked six months since April’s ferry disaster that left more than 300 people dead or missing by vowing to uncover the truth behind the tragedy through an independent probe.

The 6,825-ton ferry Sewol sank off the country’s southwest coast on April 16 due to what prosecutors believe was a combination of cargo overloading, excessive remodeling of the ship, and poor steering.

The victims’ family members and opposition lawmakers, however, have demanded a separate independent investigation into the disaster, claiming that the government’s poor initial response to the tragedy contributed to the high death toll.

After months of wrangling, the ruling Saenuri Party and the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) agreed last month to jointly recommend four independent counsel candidates from which President Park Geun-hye would appoint one.

The victims’ families, however, demand their participation in the selection process.

Under the bipartisan agreement, a bill calling for the independent probe is to be passed through the National Assembly by the end of this month, along with two other bills related to the ferry disaster.

On Wednesday, both parties vowed to keep their promise as they urged the other party to cooperate in settling all outstanding issues.

“We will put all of strength into building a safe Republic of Korea,” Rep. Kwon Eun-hee, a Saenuri spokesperson, said during a press briefing. “We ask NPAD to cooperate with a broad point of view in handling the special Sewol bill for a safe Republic of Korea by the end of this month as promised.”

Claiming that the truth has yet to be determined, NPAD spokesperson Rep. Han Jeoung-ae apologized to the public for her party’s failure to fulfill its responsibility and role as the No. 1 opposition party.

“We will not forget the Sewol disaster and keep our promise to build a safe Republic of Korea that is completely different from before the tragedy,” she said in a statement. “NPAD will do its best to create a special Sewol law that enables the determination of the truth by the end of October as per the bipartisan agreement.”