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The Sewol Conspiracy

How BTS made a difference

By Rick Henry Christopher Published 3 years ago 13 min read
The Sewol Ferry sinking

It is Tuesday April 15, 2014 and 325 students from Danwon High School are excitedly boarding school buses for a four day field trip, a trip by ferry boat. They were bound for South Korea’s Jeju Island. It was a dream come true and the second year high school students were excited to be spending several days on the resort island with many beautiful sites such as; the domant volcano Hallasan Mountain, the horse shaped lighthouses at Iho Taewoo Beach, or one of the hundreds of museums scattered all across the island such as the Jeju Natural Stone Art Museum. But before the kids even make it to the island their most exciting event was in the planning; a surprise birthday party for their beloved teacher Kim Cho-won who was turning 26 that day. The party was set to commence that evening on the The Sewol ferry boat. The bus ride to the Incheon port was full of good cheer, with gleeful singing along to the latest K-Pop singers of the day such as, Hyolyn and AKMU and taking selfies of each other.

Once they arrived at port there was a heavy fog which caused the 6:30 pm departure to be delayed. But by 8:30 pm the vessel transit service retracted the warning and The Sewol departed at 9:00 pm. Once again excitement was in the air as you could hear the high school kids cheering as they were finally on their way to paradise.

Danwon High School Students on the Sewol Ferry

Minutes before midnight a few of the students devised a plot to get their teacher, Kim Cho-won, into one of the cabins. When the door was opened out jumped several 10th grade students from Danwon High School cheering and shouting out SURPRISE, while shooting streamers and blowing on noise makers. Inside the cabin was a beautifully decorated birthday cake to commemorate Kim Cho-won's 26th birthday, she looked on with tears as the students sang happy birthday and took pictures of her holding her cake.

Kim Cho-won in one of the cabins on the Sewol Ferry with her students and birthday cake

After the party the kids retreated to their separate cabins to go to sleep. But not all the kids were able to sleep. The excitement of being on a ferry boat for the first time and the exhilaration of the fresh ocean air had their adrenaline pumping and they stayed up all night into the next morning.

Danwon High School Students having fun on the Sewol Ferry 4/16/2014

Breakfast was being served in the cafeteria at 8:30 am. Many of the students were up on the deck enjoying the salty sea air upon the anticipation of soon arriving to Jeju Island.

Meanwhile, at the ships wheel, tensions were brewing. Third mate, Park Han-kyul, a licensed officer of the watch and helmsman Cho Joon-ki had relieved the night guard an hour earlier. At 8:46 am Park, who was using a radar and believed they were on course to collide with another ship, ordered Cho to change course from 135 degrees to 140 degrees. (NOTE: A ship's course, expressed in degrees, is the intended direction of travel, relative to true north. For example, a course of 180 degrees means the ship's intended direction of travel is toward the south).

Believing that the current course of the Sewol was set at 140 degrees but the boat kept listing toward the left, Park then ordered Cho to change the course to 145 degrees. At which time Cho made both turns in one ten degree turn instead of two five degree turns. The ten degree turn proved to be too much for the ship to handle. (“Listing” is a nautical term to describe when a vessel takes on water and tilts to one side.)

At this moment Captain Lee Joon-seok, a replacement for the regular captain, was absent from the bridge near the ship's wheel. Park and Cho continued navigating the ship.

At around 8:50 am Captain Lee gave the order for the passengers to stay in their cabins. The orders were mostly directed toward the high school students. The students stayed in their cabins joking around with their friends, taking pictures of each other and posting them on social media. At this point the students knew there was something going on and some of them called their friends and relatives to let them know that the ferry was sinking.

The consequences became dire as Park realized the ship was abruptly listing to starboard. Starboard is the right side of the ship when you are looking from the stern (back of the ship) to the bow (front). This caused the bow to turn to the right. Park immediately gave the order to turn the wheel to port (left). Cho, now frustrated, shouted out, "The wheel's not working," this is when the ship started listing (tilting) more drastically. Within a matter of a minute the ship was tilting 20 degrees into the water causing the cargo to fall to one side of the ship which in turn caused an imbalance of the ship's gyroscope leading to a further tilting of another ten degrees into the water.

Captain Lee and several of his crew abandoned ship, a violation of seafarer’s law, and were the first to be rescued, leaving behind hundreds that were stuck below in their cabins.

Danwon High School students wait to be rescued while the Captain and crew escape to safety

The Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) had been communicating back and forth with the crew but did not keep such good communication with the Coast Guard. When the Coast Guard finally arrived, they arrived with the assumption that ship was being evacuated. The Coast Guard was not equipped with enough rescue guards to properly handle this tragedy.

By now the passengers in the cabins were becoming distraught with fear as some of them panicked and scattered toward the deck. But the current of the water, as it filled the ship, was swift and strong and kept pulling the them back to their drowning death. There weren't any crew members or coast guard there to help rescue any of these passengers. They were all left to try and save themselves.

In the end over 300 people died of which 250 were the students of Danwon High School.

Investigations confirmed that Cho Joon-ki's faulty steering due to misunderstanding third mate Park Han-kyul's direction was in part the cause of the sinking of the Sewol. It was also discovered that the ship was illegally modified to carry more passengers and cargo and had been overloaded for this trip.

The regular captain of Sewol, Captain Shin, had requested a repair for the malfunctioning steering gear on April 1, 2014, but this was not done.

Authorities claimed that Captain Lee's order telling the students to stay in their cabins caused hundreds of unnecessary deaths. The ones that did not obey Lee's order ended up being rescued.

Beyond all the tragedy, the death, the confusion, and cover-ups, there was more, the tragedy did not end here.

Two days after the capsizing of the Sewol another shocking incident occurred.

In the port city of Jindo a gymnasium was turned into a makeshift shelter in which hundreds of the Sewol victim's relatives lived while they awaited news and updates regarding the rescue mission being conducted. Each day lists of the dead would be posted. For some seeing their relative's name on the list was almost a relief and for others it bought on an unbearable grief.

On April 17th ten Danwon school staff members, including the principal and teachers took the stage in the gymnasium and got on their knees to apologize to the families of the missing students. Shortly after this incident Vice Principal Kang Min-kyu disappeared, which prompted the police to start looking for him. They found him hanging from a tree near the gymnasium. The guilt that he survived and so many of the children didn't was too big of a burden for him to bear, that he hung himself with a belt.

In his suicide note Kang Min-kyu wrote that it was his idea for the field trip and he made all the arrangements. He felt that the deaths of the students were his fault. Some of the parents directed their frustration and anger at him of which Kang stated this broke his heart.

Kang's most direct and profound statement was, "Scatter my ashes at the site of the sunken ferry so that in the afterlife I may become a teacher to my students who have not been rescued."

Several days after the incident President Park Geun-hye visited the gymnasium in Jindo. Her voice quivered as she attempted to comfort the parents and families of the children that had drowned in the ferry disaster, "I know very well the sorrow of losing a family member because I've experienced it," said Park, whose parents were both killed when she was in her 20s. "My heart aches thinking about how you feel." She was booed by some of the parents and relatives. They felt the government's slow and indecisive response caused many unnecessary deaths.

As investigations were underway it became evident President Park Geun-hye's administration was being less than forthright regarding some of the events that lead up to the Sewol tragedy and the delayed and partial actions taken during rescue attempts. At one point the government affirmed that everyone had been rescued when the truth was family members were still waiting for word of their loved ones. Instead the government tried deflecting away from their botched rescue attempts by focusing on poor regulatory controls.

At the time of the incident volunteer rescuers were blocked by the government and were given excuses as to why the rescue mission could not proceed. One of those reasons the government gave the volunteers was that everybody had already been saved, when in fact there were hundreds of people still missing.

One of the biggest questions on the minds of the parents was the reason why all the crew were rescued yet their children had to die. The parents were not getting any satisfying answers. Even key members in former President Park Geun-hye's administration had been kept in the dark regarding the rescue efforts. While others were ordered to find ways to interfere with the work of an independent investigative panel.

While South Korea was in a state of mourning it seemed as if much of the day to day business had come to a stop, K-Pop stars held off on releasing new music, politicians decided not to campaign, and TV stations stopped showing entertainment shows while the tragedy unfolded. Despite all of this going on most anybody with a voice of influence did not speak about the impending government cover-up. There were whispers behind closed doors but most people were afraid to come forward for fear of being blacklisted by the government.

The government made an all-out effort to cover-up this incident. They ordered the TV channel KBS (a state funded organization that has ties to the government) to not denounce the Coast Guard or the rescue operations.

Citizens were silenced by monitoring Internet and mobile chats, the government indicted hundreds of people for "spreading false rumors" about the incident and rescue operations.

Schools were instructed to stay silent about the incident.

Shortly after the incident it was revealed that the government had devised a blacklist of entertainers, musicians, and artists that embraced the victims.

Despite the blacklist the South Korean boy band, BTS and Bang Si Hyuk, the founder of Big Hit Entertainment, collectively decided to meet with the families of the Sewol victims. They went against the grain and risked being blacklisted, an action which could have stunted BTS' young career. But because they weren't so well known, at that point, they were able to stay under the radar.

When they met with the families they created a relaxing atmosphere by burning incense and speaking in soft and empathetic tones, conveying their sadness and sympathy over the events which had unfolded six months earlier.

BTS comforts the families of Sewol Victims

But it did not end there. Although, they really did not have the funds to cover such an expense, they donated 100 million won (approximately US $85,000) to the Sewol Ferry Disaster 416 Family Council. Each of the seven members contributed 10 million won (approximately $8,500 in U.S. dollars) and the agency added 30 million won (approximately $25,500).

But still there was more... BTS fans (who are called ARMY) followed BTS' lead and donated millions of won to the victim's families and many have visited with them to console and bring feelings of sympathy and good cheer to them.

ARMY is what BTS' fans call themselves. ARMY stands Adorable Representative M.C. For Youth. The symbolism of the name is that "Army" is associated with the military and body armor, and how those two things are always together, the fandom name basically means that fans will always be together with BTS. The M.C. stands for Master of Ceremonies which is a term used for top-level rappers who are masters at their craft. This indicates how important ARMY is to BTS. It also suggests that ARMYs are youth leaders who, like BTS, are paving the way for their generation.

BTS ARMY fan club Badge

The families of the victims are so grateful to BTS and have shown their sincerity and gratitude by praying for BTS' future and success. They often publicly thank BTS on social media.

From the very beginning BTS has been heavily influenced by doing what is right toward others. They are very much into promoting human rights and compassion toward others.

BTS has never been afraid to face controversy or political anguish in order to do what is right and uphold Human Rights. BTS supports Black Lives Matter, they have worked in conjunction with the United Nations and they have spoken out about the recent hate crimes against Asian Americans.

BTS and ARMY donate 1,000,000 won to BLM

Now onto the songs "Spring Day."

"Spring Day" was released in February 2017 and was an instant hit in South Korea, debuting at #1 and remained on the chart for the next 3 years. The song has sold 2.5 million copies in South Korea alone. Rolling Stone Magazine called it one of the greatest boy band songs of all time.

Right away fans began speculating that "Spring Day" was about the sinking of the Sewol Ferry which happened three years earlier. BTS and Emma SungEun kim (the producer of the video) gave fans a lot with which to speculate.

First, the Sewol incident happened on a Spring Day.

Images of the ocean as RapMonster says, " I still miss you."

BTS Spring Day

The most prominent point of speculation is the use of yellow ribbons in the music video. In Korea the yellow ribbon has become a symbol of remembrance of the victims of the Sewol Ferry tragedy.

BTS Spring Day - Yellow Ribbons

Remembering the Sewol Victims with Yellow Ribbons

BTS has not confirmed that the song is about the Sewol tragedy. Although, in a recent interview with Esquire, Jin commented, “It is about a sad event.” This has fueled speculation even more with the fans, because now they know that "Spring Day" is about a specific event.

The Sewol incident was tragic event which turned into a nationwide scandal when the South Korean government tried to cover it up. It took brave people like BTS to step forward and give the victims' families some much needed support and financial aid.

Eventually former President Park Geun-hye was impeached partially due to her handling of the Sewol incident. She was later convicted and jailed on corruption charges.

BTS has gone on to become one of the most popular music acts in the world and have topped the albums charts worldwide.

pop culture

About the Creator

Rick Henry Christopher

Writing is a distraction to fulfill my need for intellectual stimulus, emotional release, and soothing the bruises of the day.

The shattered pieces of life will not discourage me.

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