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On April 14, 2014, approximately 325 students from the Danwon High School were traveling on a South Korean ferry named the Sewol. The ferry, owned and operated by the Yoo family, was traveling from Incheon, South Korea to a small tourist destination off the country’s coast, called Jeju Island. On the morning of the trip, there were roughly 500 passengers aboard the Sewol, including 25 crew members.
While en route to Jeju Island, the ferry was making a 45-degree turn to the right when the crew heard a loud bang. Then the engines stopped, slowing the vessel to a halt. Inexplicably, the ship began to sink. Panic and fear spread among the passengers. They looked to the crew members to keep them safe. But instead of leading the innocent teenagers to safety, the crew members did the unthinkable. After instructing the passengers to put on lifejackets and stay inside, the captain and crew abandoned the vessel and saved themselves.
Before abandoning the ship, the crew members had signaled emergency vessels in the area that a rescue was needed. Unfortunately, the first responders did not arrive for another hour after the calls were made. During this time, the capsizing vessel pulled many of its young passengers down with it. More than 300 people were killed. Some bodies have yet to be recovered from the ship, which now lies at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.
Homicide and criminal negligence charges have been brought against the captain of the vessel and its crew members. Further investigation into the sinking of the vessel has revealed that other parties may face criminal charges. Prosecutors claim that the ferry sank due to a dangerous mix of safety violations, including balance-altering renovations, cargo overloading, and improper fastening of shipping containers and the cars on board. By cutting corners on safety, the Yoo family was apparently able to make a greater profit by increasing capacity.
Members of the Yoo family have been tracked down and placed in custody. The patriarch of the family, Yoo Byung-eun, was recently found dead in an orchard in South Korea. Examination of the body has not yet revealed a cause of death, but suicide is suspected.
In the wake of this terrible tragedy, the survivors count their blessings. Several 16 and 17-year-old girls recall their traumatic experience onboard the Sewol. They have recounted their escape from the ship, claiming that if they had listened to the crew’s orders, they would have perished. Instead, as they felt the ship turning onto its side, they used their life vests and rising water to lift themselves toward an exit.