After Sewol tragedy, mourning turns to anger

Almost three weeks after the sinking of the Sewol ferry, a deep sense of sadness persists across the country. Close to 300 people died, most of them students from Danwon High School, and the loss of so many young lives is stirring popular anger against the Park administration as it struggles to respond.

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Signs and flowers were left at the gate to Danwon High School in Ansan, South Korea.

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Danwon High School.

I was in Ansan just days after the accident, and I photographed a vigil held there as people held out hope for survivors. After the initial rescue, no survivors were found, and dive teams continue to pull bodies from the sunken ship. Close to 300 people died, most of them teenagers from Ansan.

south korea, ansan, danwon, sewol, ferry, disaster, seoul

People hold candles at a vigil in Ansan, South Korea.

south korea, ansan, danwon, sewol, ferry, disaster, seoul

People hold candles at a vigil in Ansan, South Korea.

The Sewol tragedy is truly that. In the minutes after the ship began to list, the captain and crew refused to order an evacuation, and instead instructed passengers to remain where they were. Most of the students who died were on lower decks, and were trapped as the water began to pour in. The captain and most of the crew, meanwhile, were some of the first to be evacuated as rescue boats arrived.

Almost immediately, even before divers started pulling bodies from the ship, allegations of negligence, ineptitude, and insincerity on the part of the government began to arise. Now, a popular tide of anger is growing against president Park Geun-hye and her administration as people wonder if pro-business policies led to lax oversight, which in turn led to the disaster.

There were several demonstrations yesterday in Seoul, and in the evening around 5,000 people converged at Cheongye Plaza near the Blue House for a candle light vigil and protest.

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Nuns pray during a demonstration at Cheongye Plaza in Seoul, South Korea.

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Students post protest signs at Cheongye Plaza in Seoul, South Korea.

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People hold anti-government signs at a demonstration in Seoul, South Korea.

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People react as they watch video footage of the Sewol ferry sinking recovered from victims’ phones, at Cheongye Plaza, Seoul, South Korea.

south korea, sewol, ferry, disaster, seoul, cheongye, park geun-hye, demonstration, protest

A mother and daughter hold candles at a demonstration and vigil in Seoul, South Korea.

south korea, sewol, ferry, disaster, seoul, cheongye, park geun-hye, demonstration, protest

A woman cries during a demonstration and vigil in Seoul, South Korea.

south korea, sewol, ferry, disaster, seoul, cheongye, park geun-hye, demonstration, protest

People hold candles during a vigil at Cheongye Plaza.

south korea, sewol, ferry, disaster, seoul, cheongye, park geun-hye, demonstration, protest

A high school student weeps while holding a banner at a demonstration in Seoul.

south korea, sewol, ferry, disaster, seoul, cheongye, park geun-hye, demonstration, protest

A protestor holds a sign protesting the Park administration in Seoul.

A protestor holds a sign protesting the Park administration in Seoul.

A protestor speaks during a demonstration in Seoul.

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A woman holds a sign protesting president Park Geun-hye at a demonstration in Seoul.

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People hold signs calling on president Park Geun-hye to take responsibility for the Sewol disaster at a demonstration in Seoul.

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Students hold signs reading “Save the Children” at a demonstration in Seoul.

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People hold flowers and signs reading, “Stay where you are,” in reference to orders given by the ship’s crew during the sinking of the Sewol.

All photographs in this post by Ben Weller, all rights reserved. To license images from this post please fill out the contact form.