Remembering the Victims of the Sewol Ferry Sinking, Three Years On

Songhee Lee performing the “Salpuri” at the event marking the third anniversary of the sinking of the Sewol ferry. (Photo by Munyoung Cho for Voices of NY)

On Sunday, April 16, about 50 Koreans living in New York and New Jersey gathered in Cadman Plaza Park in Brooklyn to remember the victims of the Sewol ferry accident. Following the ceremony, they crossed the Brooklyn Bridge holding signs and photos of the victims.

The Sewol ferry was finally recovered on March 23 [from the waters off the southwest coast of Korea where it sank]. But the government was still unable to collect nine bodies. Dae Jong Kim, head of the organization New York and New Jersey Sesamo (People in Solidarity with the Families of the Sewol Ferry), spoke about the purpose of the event. He said: “It’s been 1,097 days since the Sewol ferry accident. But still the [Korean] government keeps hiding the truth of the accident. That’s the reason why we gathered today.”

Kim, 39, added: “I’m proud of you all coming here to support the families of the victims. We know they have been struggling for three years. It’s been so difficult. But we have had some meaningful results. President Park was impeached and the Sewol ferry finally has been recovered. Now what we need to do is try to find out the truth about why 304 innocent people died on April 16, 2014,” he said.

During the event, people sang “the truth shall not sink with the Sewol” together. Also, they called out the names of each of the 304 victims.

At the end of the remembrance, a Korean dancer, Songhee Lee, performed the “Salpuri,” which is a Korean traditional dance to comfort the dead. After her performance, people gave her chrysanthemums in honor of the victims.

Irene Hwang, 24, who was there, said: “It was so meaningful for me to participate in this memorial event. When I participated in calling the names, I almost cried. I hope all the victims rest in peace.”

Displaying a handcrafted banner with messages for victims of the Sewol ferry accident. (Photo by Munyoung Cho for Voices of NY)

After the memorial event, New York and New Jersey Sesamo handed a yellow balloon to each person and returned the chrysanthemums to them. Then all the participants crossed the Brooklyn Bridge in single file.

After the event, I spoke briefly with Dae Jong Kim.

Finally, the Sewol ferry has been recovered. What do you think the government should do as a next step?

Even though the Sewol ferry was recovered, the truth has not been revealed yet. I think the transfer of power [from conservative to progressive] through this presidential election can help reveal the truth (…) Even though President Park was impeached, public officials who have responsibility for the accident are still working and take a negative position toward the families of victims. So we should have a transfer of power through the election.

Why did you choose the Brooklyn Bridge as a place for the march?

Last year, the fathers of two students who were victims visited New York and New Jersey Sesamo. One of the fathers told us, “Please take photos with our children anywhere that you guys are going.” So I decided as long ago as last year to have a march across the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s a place where we can see many views of the city and is symbolic of New York, so I thought victims would like the place.

Will the rallies of New York and New Jersey Sesamo continue?

Of course, we will continue until the truth is revealed. Even if there is a transfer of power through the presidential election, we will continue to rally for the truth.

Do you have any comments for Koreans who are living in New York and New Jersey?

Actually there were fewer participants at the event compared to the first and second anniversaries. But I am so proud that some people found information about the event on social media including Facebook and came to the event. I realized that people didn’t forget the accident. They just don’t know how to participate. So Sesamo plans for [future] rallies with various cultural activities like singing and dancing. I would like to make it easy for many Koreans to attend.

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