Ferry disaster: Tragedy brings Korea to a standstill

Ferry disaster: Tragedy brings Korea to a standstill
People pay tribute in Ansan, at a temporary group memorial altar for victims of capsized passenger ship Sewol April 23, 2014.

Government offices remained closed on Friday except to conduct search operations and support the Sewol victims and their families.

Private companies have also temporary held off or scaled down both internal and external events as the country mourns the latest tragedy, which has brought Korea to a standstill.

As the death toll ― mostly teenagers ― from the devastating accident continues to increase, the public outcry and criticism of the government's lack of regulatory oversight and poor crisis management is also on the rise.

The public's hostility and blame has not only spread to government agencies such as the Ministry of Security and Public Administration and the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, but also to the alleged culprits of the accident ― the owner of ferry company Chonghaejin Marine Co., the Yoo family.

The two ministries are key government agencies with the former in charge of national security and the latter of marine regulatory policy. The Security Ministry, as critics noted, seemed unprepared for the crisis. On the other hand, the functions and operations of the Oceans Ministry, its affiliated enterprises and regulatory units have been compared to the mafia.

Investigations into the matter have now expanded to the Yoo family and their Christian cult, Salvation Sect, seeking to find if their religious activities had anything to do with the deaths of hundreds of ferry passengers.

The cult's business connection to the Sewol accident is reminiscent of a 1987 unsolved mass suicide case that also involved the sect, loan sharks and Yoo Byung-eon, who was the group's pastor at the time, as one of the prime suspects.

In light of these latest revelations, questions are cautiously being raised as to how the country can recover and get back to normal economically when public and private organisations seem to want to keep a low profile to avoid public criticism.

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