• 1. The Sinking of the Sewol Ferry & Special Sewol Law

  • One of the worst maritime disasters in South Korea's history occured on April 16, when the Sewol ferry sank around ten a.m. in waters off Byeongpung Island of Jindo County in South Jeolla Province.
    The six-thousand-825-ton ferry was on route to Jeju Island from Incheon, carrying 476 passengers, including 325 Danwon High School students.
    On the day the ship went down, 172 passengers were rescued. However, by the time search efforts concluded in November, the death toll was 295 with nine remaining unaccounted for.
    Various factors were cited as causes for the ferry’s sinking, including excessive redesigning of the ship’s hull, overloading as well as the captain and crew’s inexperience in navigation. The captain’s failure to give timely orders to abandon the ship and the coast guards’ failure to swiftly and effectively carry out rescue operations are assessed to have led to significant casualties as well.
    After criticism mounted over the less-than-effective initial response by different ministries and agencies, the government established a pan-government countermeasures headquarters .
    Prosecutors launched active investigations on the Chonghaejin Marine Company, the operator of the Sewol and Yoo Byung-eon, the owner of the sunken ferry. Investigators uncovered that Yoo and his family members were involved in various forms of corruption, including embezzlement and breach of trust.
    The ship’s captain, crew and Yoo’s family members as well as civil servants in collusion with them were prosecuted. Yoo was a fugitive until he was later found dead in a fruit field in South Jeolla Province.
    In lieu of the tragedy, President Park Geun-hye vowed to make South Korea a safe country by taking drastic measures, including disbanding the Korea Coast Guard and establishing the Ministry of Public Safety and Security.
    The National Assembly, meanwhile, passed the special Sewol law to further investigate April's ferry sinking and the so-called "Yoo Byung-eon law” intended to allow for the confiscation of third party assets of those related to the culprit of a deadly accident.
    The passage of such laws came after a 150-day stalemate in parliament. As the nation mourned over the ferry disaster, consumer sentiment sharply contracted and economic recovery slowed down.
    Search efforts for missing passengers of the Sewol ferry came to an end on November 18 with the disbanding of the pan-government countermeasures headquarters and conclusion of underwater search operations. Only a special probe committee tasked with unveiling the truth behind the ferry incident remains active.