SEOUL, South Korea : Thousands of South Koreans participated in memorial events Saturday for the more than 300 people who died in a ferry disaster two years ago that deeply rattled the country.
Hundreds of people, carrying umbrellas in light evening rain, created long lines at a square in the capital, Seoul, waiting to place flowers on a makeshift altar near where relatives of the victims had camped out for months in protest.
Seoul police were expecting nearly 5,000 people to participate in the event, with speeches, concerts and film screenings planned. Police were also preparing for the possibility of the gathering turning into an anti-government march, but the event was proceeding peacefully at the start.
Hours earlier, about 2,500 people, including grieving family members and government officials, gathered for an event at a memorial altar in Ansan, where most of the victims lived. There were other memorial events around the country, including a gathering at a small island port near the site of the accident, where relatives had spent months waiting for divers to return with the bodies of their loved ones.
A total of 304 people, most of them students from a single high school in Ansan, died when the ferry Sewol sank off South Korea’s southwest coast in April 2014 in a disaster partially blamed on official incompetence and corruption.
Divers recovered 295 bodies from the ship’s wreckage and nearby seas before the government stopped underwater searches after seven months. Nine victims remain missing.
The tragedy touched off an outpouring of national grief and soul-searching about public safety. The relatives of the victims, angry that higher-level officials haven’t been held accountable, have been calling for a stronger investigation into the government’s responsibility for the disaster.
“We really want to move on,” Jeon Myung-sun, the father of one of the student victims, said during a speech in Ansan. “We would be able to go back to our ordinary lives if the people who are responsible are held responsible, and after finding out why (the accident) happened and why our children had to die.”
South Korea’s top court in November last year upheld a life sentence for the ferry’s captain. The court concluded that he committed homicide by “willful negligence” because he fled his ship without giving an evacuation order.