07/29/2014, 00.00
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Korea, Sewol survivors: Crew and Coast Guard abandoned us

Hearing opens in Ansan to gather the testimonies of those who have managed to escape after the disaster, which killed more than 300 people. Heavy accusations against those in charge, who fled instead of helping passengers. The Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace: "Now we need a special law to shed light on the incident."

Seoul (AsiaNews) - The Sewol crew and Coast Guard officials "did nothing to help students and passengers as the ferry was sinking". This is the eye witness account of 6 young survivors of the April 16 shipping disaster on the south-western coasts of the country. In the tragedy that has shaken the entire country, more than 300 people were killed, most of them were high school students headed for the island of Cheju a school trip.

The trial against crew members began yesterday in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province, a few days after the discovery of the lifeless body of Yoo Byung-eun, the owner the ferry company who had fled immediately after the disaster . The witnesses' testimony denounced the behavior of rescue teams: "There were 30 students queued up along an aisle toward an emergency exit, waiting to be rescued. With no sign of a rescue team, we jumped into the water one by one. But then a wave swamped the exit and 10 other students couldn't get out of the ship".

The ferry captain Lee Joon-seok and 15 other crew members were indicted on charges of negligent homicide for leaving 476 passengers behind in order to save themselves. The trial will be held in Gwangju, close to the disaster site, but testimonies are being recorded in Ansan to prevent the traumatized young people from having to return to the scene of the sinking. All the witnesses have requested an "exemplary punishment" for "those who were supposed to help but did not".

In all likelihood, the civil trial against the crew will end up with different sentences. However, the real cause of the disaster and the possibility that victims' families will receive compensation still seems a long way off, given that 100 days from the sinking, the government and Parliament have not yet passed the bill that protects the survivors and their families. This has sparked demonstrations and hunger strikes demanding "justice and truth" from the Seoul executive.

The President of the Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace has brought comfort to some family members on hunger strike. Speaking of slowness in shedding light on the incident, Msgr. Lee Yong-hun said: "Clearly, something is wrong with a society in which people who have lost their family members must desperately ask for someone to find out the truth of those deaths. It is the responsibility of the government to place the safety of the public and the dignity of human kind above every other value of government".



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