Search Efforts Must Respect the Wishes of Victims' Families

Efforts to search for the more bodies trapped inside the ferry Sewol are facing serious obstacles. Underwater currents off the southwest coast have become strong. Only three more bodies were recovered over the weekend, leaving 114 still missing as of Monday morning.

Currents in the area will reach their strongest level for three to four days starting Tuesday, posing even more obstacles. This could cause oxygen pipes to get tangled, while divers face the risk of being carried away by swift currents. Seven search divers were apparently injured as of Monday morning. They are putting their lives on the line to look for more bodies.

At a meeting between the families of the victims on Sunday, some said they need to face the reality and suggested starting to salvage the sunken ferry from the bottom of the ocean, while others voiced strong opposition. Officials at the government response center said Monday that preparations are being made to eventually salvage the Sewol, but the views of the family members of the victims were key because that would mean the end of search and rescue operations, since any attempt to lift the vessel out of the water would eliminate any air pockets that might still be left inside the ship.

Officials sought the approval of the family members on Sunday to use wire cutters to enter the vessel and got the green light. Divers can only work under water for up to eight minutes at a time. It is a dangerous job. Officials also explained to family members the option of using small explosive charges to get into the cabins, but they said no for fear that the bodies might be damaged.

Officials must clearly explain the pluses and minuses of each method and what is feasible or not. Any damage to the vessel during the salvage attempt could seriously damage the remaining bodies. The bodies of six out of the 46 sailors who were killed when the Navy corvette Cheonan sank in 2010 remain missing to this day. And salvaging the massive Sewol is no easy task either. A 7,910-ton ship that sank off the coast of Japan in 2009 was salvaged more than a year later after being cut into smaller pieces.

The views of the victims' families must come first. If there is even a microscopic chance that there are survivors, search efforts must continue. But government officials must be prepared to raise the vessel if the family members choose that option.
englishnews@chosun.com / Apr. 29, 2014 13:46 KST