Channel NewsAsia

Shared guilt and shame in wake of S Korea ferry tragedy

In the wake of the Sewol ferry disaster, South Koreans from all walks of life have contributed to a collective outpouring of grief, guilt, anger and regret, with adults believing that they have betrayed the high school students who had trusted them.

SEOUL: In the wake of the Sewol ferry disaster, South Koreans from all walks of life have contributed to a collective outpouring of grief, guilt, anger and regret.

Apologies have come thick and fast, and it seems many locals feel at least partly responsible for the loss of so many young lives.

Since the ferry sank on April 16, the words "I'm Sorry" have been one of the most common refrains of South Koreans.

This shared guilt is seen as part of Korean culture.

Adults believe that they have betrayed the high school students who had trusted them.

Shin Jeong-keun, director at the Institute of Confucian Philosophy and Culture at Sungkyungkwan University, said there are two main groups of people feeling this sadness and guilt.

He said: “One is those directly responsible for causing this incident. And the second is those who, as adults, feel indirect responsibility for not being able to give any kind of help or direction when needed in this inevitable situation.”

Mr Shin dismissed the idea that the rigid and disciplinarian education system in Korea had moulded students who followed orders to stay on board, instead of taking the initiative to escape to safety.

“In their situation, I think the students thought it would be better to remain where they were instead of moving. That's because with so many people together, things can get worse,” he said.

Prime Minister Chung Hong-won has offered to resign over the government's handling of the ferry sinking, while vice-principal of Danwon High School, where the students studied, committed suicide days after the sinking.

He was one of the 174 rescued initially, and survivor guilt appeared too much for him to shoulder.

No one has been found alive since.

As South Koreans mourn the death of so many people who died in this disaster, and the country remains in a state of grief and anguish, the quest for answers are likely to continue. 

Tweet Photos, Videos and Update on this Story to  #cna