Grief at memorial for Korean ferry student victims

Wednesday 23 April 2014 21.23
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A mourner pays tribute to the victims at an altar set up at Ansan Olympic Memorial Hall
A mourner pays tribute to the victims at an altar set up at Ansan Olympic Memorial Hall
Divers emerge from the water after conducting an underwater search off the island of Jinju
Divers emerge from the water after conducting an underwater search off the island of Jinju

Thousands of mourners paid respects today at a temporary memorial to the hundreds of student victims of South Korea's ferry disaster, as the search for bodies entered a second week.

The confirmed death toll stands at 150, but 152 people are still missing.

Their bodies are believed to be trapped in the inverted, submerged ship that sank a week ago in circumstances that have yet to be fully explained.

As the relatives of the missing began their daily vigil at the harbour on Jindo island, where bodies recovered from the disaster site are brought, others converged on a temporary memorial to the victims in Ansan, 320km to the north.

The memorial, set up in an indoor sports stadium, was opened today and comprised a giant bank of flowers, among which rested the framed pictures of 22 students whose funerals have already taken place.

Above the floral wall, a large banner carried the message: "We pray for the souls of the departed."

Mourners, clutching white flowers handed out by volunteers, wept, bowed and prayed as they stood before the altar before placing their flowers below the students' pictures.

There was anger as well as grief.

One woman railed against the authorities for not saving more people, while one large floral tribute carried a sash with the simple message: "I hate the Republic of Korea."

Among the mourners were many schoolchildren in uniform, some of whom broke down and had to be helped out of the stadium.

In Jindo harbour, the latest bodies recovered from the ferry were taken to a small tented village set up to manage the process of identifying the bodies.

"I'm here to help you recognise the dead," a forensic official told a group of relatives called to the site because identification documents or distinguishing features indicated their family member might be among those brought ashore.

"We have cleaned the bodies, but did not take their clothes and socks off so that you can recognise them more easily," the official said, before leading them into a closed-off section.

The disaster has stunned South Korea where there has been widespread public anger directed at the ferry company and crew, the rescue coordinators and the government in Seoul.

The ferry's captain, Lee Joon-Seok, and six crew members are under arrest with two other crew taken into police custody yesterday.

This morning, prosecutors raided a host of businesses affiliated with the ferry operator, the Chonghaejin Marine Company.

Captain Lee and his surviving crew members have been criticised heavily for abandoning the ship while hundreds remained trapped inside.

President Park Geun-Hye described their actions as being "tantamount to murder".

Keywords: ferry, south korea