S.Korea media slam govt over ferry 'remains'

PHOTO: Reuters

South Korean authorities faced a deluge of criticism Wednesday for announcing that human remains had been found from the sunken Sewol ferry, only to correct itself within hours to say they were animal bones.

Newspapers said relatives of the missing had been put through "heaven and hell", and accused the maritime ministry of recklessness.

Nine of the 304 people killed nearly three years ago in one of the South's worst maritime disasters have never been found.

Salvaging the wreck in one piece - finally achieved in a complex operation last week - had been a key demand of their families, who say they have been unable to mourn properly.

South Korea raises sunken Sewol ferry

  • The sunken ferry Sewol is prepared to be moved onto semi-submersible ship during its salvage operations at the sea off Jindo, South Korea, in this handout picture provided by the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries and released by News1 on March 24, 2017.
  • The sunken ferry Sewol is moved toward semi-submersible ship (not pictured) during its salvage operations at the sea off Jindo, South Korea, March 24, 2017.
  • The sunken ferry Sewol is moved toward semi-submersible ship (not pictured) during its salvage operations at the sea off Jindo, South Korea, March 24, 2017.
  • The sunken ferry Sewol is prepared to be moved onto semi-submersible ship during its salvage operations at the sea off Jindo, South Korea, in this handout picture provided by the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries and released by News1 on March 24, 2017.
  • Family members of victims onboard the sunken ferry Sewol cry as they look on during its salvage operations at the sea off Jindo, South Korea, March 24, 2017.
  • A family member of a victim onboard the sunken ferry Sewol looks on as it is moved toward semi-submersible ship (not pictured) during its salvage operations at the sea off Jindo, South Korea, March 24, 2017.
  • The sunken ferry Sewol is moved onto a semisubmersible ship (not pictured) during its salvage operations at the sea off Jindo, South Korea, March 24, 2017.
  • The sunken ferry Sewol sits on a semi-submersible ship during its salvage operations at the sea off Jindo, South Korea, March 25, 2017.
  • The sunken ferry Sewol sits on a semi-submersible ship during its salvage operations at the sea off Jindo, South Korea, in this handout picture provided by the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries and released by News1 on March 25, 2017.
  • The sunken ferry Sewol sits on a semi-submersible ship during its salvage operations at the sea off Jindo, South Korea, in this handout picture provided by the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries and released by Yonhap on March 26, 2017.
  • The sunken ferry Sewol sits on a semi-submersible ship during its salvage operations at the sea off Jindo, South Korea, in this handout picture provided by the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries and released by Yonhap on March 26, 2017.
  • The sunken ferry Sewol sits on a semi-submersible ship during its salvage operations at the sea off Jindo, South Korea, March 26, 2017.
  • The sunken ferry Sewol sits on a semi-submersible ship during its salvage operations at the sea off Jindo, South Korea, March 26, 2017.
  • A family member of a victim onboard the sunken ferry Sewol looks on during its salvage operations at the sea off Jindo, South Korea, March 26, 2017.
  • The sunken ferry Sewol sits on a semi-submersible ship during its salvage operations at the sea off Jindo, South Korea, March 26, 2017.
  • Family members of victims onboard the sunken ferry Sewol react as they look on during its salvage operations at the sea off Jindo, South Korea, March 26, 2017.
  • The sunken ferry Sewol sits on a semi-submersible ship during its salvage operations at the sea off Jindo, South Korea, March 26, 2017.
  • The sunken ferry Sewol sits on a semi-submersible ship during its salvage operations at the sea off Jindo, South Korea, March 26, 2017.
  • The sunken ferry Sewol sits on a semi-submersible ship during its salvage operations at the sea off Jindo, South Korea, March 26, 2017.
  • The sunken ferry Sewol sits on a semi-submersible ship during its salvage operations at the sea off Jindo, South Korea, March 26, 2017.
  • Workers work on the sunken ferry Sewol sitting on a semi-submersible ship during its salvage operations at the sea off Jindo, South Korea, in this handout picture provided by the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries and released by Yonhap on March 27, 2017.
  • Workers work on the sunken ferry Sewol sitting on a semi-submersible ship during its salvage operations at the sea off Jindo, South Korea, in this handout picture provided by the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries and released by Yonhap on March 27, 2017.
  • Workers work on the sunken ferry Sewol sitting on a semi-submersible ship during its salvage operations at the sea off Jindo, South Korea, in this handout picture provided by the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries and released by Yonhap on March 27, 2017.
  • A family member of a victim onboard the sunken ferry Sewol looks on during its salvage operations at the sea off Jindo, South Korea, March 27, 2017.
  • People hold yellow balloons dedicated to the victims onboard the sunken ferry Sewol during an event at a port in Jindo, South Korea, March 28, 2017.
  • People release yellow balloons dedicated to the victims onboard the sunken ferry Sewol during an event at a port in Jindo, South Korea, March 28, 2017.
  • This handout photo provided and taken on March 28, 2017 by South Korean Maritime Ministry shows relatives of the missing from the Sewol ferry disaster looking at the damaged Sewol ferry during a memorial service on a ship off the coast of the southern South Korean island of Jindo.
  • People and relatives of victims of the Sewol ferry watch the ongoing salvage operation off the coast of South Korea's southern island of Jindo on March 28, 2017.
  • The sunken ferry Sewol sits on a semi-submersible ship in preparation of transport during its salvage operations at the sea off Jindo, South Korea, March 30, 2017.
  • The sunken ferry Sewol sits on a semi-submersible ship in preparation of transport during its salvage operations at the sea off Jindo, South Korea, March 30, 2017.
  • The sunken ferry Sewol sits on a semi-submersible ship in preparation of transport during its salvage operations at the sea off Jindo, South Korea, March 30, 2017.
  • The sunken ferry Sewol sits on a semi-submersible ship in preparation of transport during its salvage operations at the sea off Jindo, South Korea, March 30, 2017.
  • Police walk in front of the wreck of the Sewol ferry after it arrived at a port in Mokpo on March 31, 2017.
  • The wreck of the Sewol ferry arrives at a port in Mokpo on March 31, 2017.
  • Bystanders watch as the wreck of the Sewol ferry arrives at a port in Mokpo on March 31, 2017.
  • A general view shows the wreck of the Sewol ferry as it arrives mounted on a semi-submersible barge at a port in Mokpo on March 31, 2017.
  • Bystanders watch as the wreck of the Sewol ferry arrives at a port in Mokpo on March 31, 2017.
  • This handout photo provided and taken on March 28, 2017 by South Korean Maritime Ministry shows relatives of the missing from the Sewol ferry disaster throwing flowers during a memorial service on a ship near the damaged Sewol ferry off the coast of the southern South Korean island of Jindo.

The maritime ministry raised their hopes Tuesday when it said that human remains had been found by workers and were "suspected to be one of the missing victims".

Little more than five hours later it withdrew the assertion, saying the pieces had been confirmed to be seven animal bone fragments.

Citing forensic experts, Yonhap news agency said they were from pig legs.

Read also: Internet abuzz as ribbon-shaped cloud appears during Sewol salvage operation

In a front page headline Wednesday, the Hankook Ilbo declared: "Maritime ministry gives relatives double punch".

"Relatives of missing people had to undergo heaven and hell in one swoop as the government recklessly went ahead with an important announcement without checking basic facts," it said.

The Dong-A Ilbo daily said it had "jumped the gun", under a headline reading: "The maritime ministry goofs up, again".

Animal bones and human bones are easily discernible even to the naked eye, it added.

Read also: S Korea salvage operators raise Sewol ferry

Relatives who have set up home at a port near the accident site burst into tears when a senior official told them "human remains" had been retrieved, the paper said.

They rushed to reach a semi-submersible anchored out at sea, where the wreck has been loaded and the bone fragments were found, only to be told of their animal origins.

Lost for words and exhausted, they returned to their shelters in silence, according to the daily.

An unidentified ministry official was quoted by the Chosun Ilbo newspaper as saying: "The bones were in muck and we were unable to take a close look at them" before forensic experts arrived. "We never imagined they could be from an animal." Almost all the victims of the sinking were schoolchildren, and investigations concluded the disaster was largely man-made - the cumulative result of an illegal redesign of the ship, an overloaded cargo bay, inexperienced crew and a questionable relationship between the ship operators and state regulators.

The ministry was heavily criticised over the sinking, and the Kyunghyang daily said the announcement debacle happened because it was now overly eager to prove itself by producing results in the search for the missing.

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