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South Korean President Promises To Raise Sewol Ferry, One Year After Tragedy

People pay tribute at a group memorial altar for victims of the sunken South Korean ferry Sewol at a remembrance hall in Ansan on Thursday.

Speaking on the first anniversary of a catastrophe that killed 304 people, President Park Geun-hye pledged Thursday to salvage the Sewol ferry, which capsized and sank during a trip to a resort island. Nine bodies are believed to remain inside the ship.

"Most of the victims were actually students from a single high school," NPR's Elise Hu reports, "so this obviously sent the country into deep grief — but also outrage, since the rescue effort was widely viewed as bungled."

The ship's captain and several crew members notoriously abandoned the ship as it was sinking. The ship tilted at an extreme angle, and it's been reported that conflicting orders were given to passengers. A transcript of radio distress calls showed confusion and panic.

More than half of the ship's crew members survived; several were arrested. The captain was later sentenced to more than 30 years in jail. The ferry's owners have also faced intense scrutiny, and one month after the disaster, Park disbanded the Coast Guard.

The president's promise today "is the first time that Park explicitly mentioned the salvage," the Yonhap news agency says.

The pledge comes as relatives of the victims demand accountability and closure. They're also unhappy with the government's plan to place a special inquiry into the tragedy under the control of the president's office.

Thursday, families at one memorial altar turned their backs on the country's prime minister. And The Korea Herald reports, "families of the missing, who have camped in makeshift homes at Jindo Harbor since the accident, vacated the spot upon hearing of the president's planned visit, in an apparent show of protest."

Other politicians' attempts to visit memorial sites were met with boos — and in one case, a brawl, the newspaper reports.

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