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Crewmember who died in ferry disaster honored

She was a 22-year-old crewmember and cafeteria worker who shone like a beacon in the chaos aboard the sinking South Korean ferry Sewol. She remained at her post — passing out life jackets, helping passengers make their way on deck, giving up her own life jacket, ultimately losing her life — while the captain and many other crewmembers cut and ran.

Park Ji-Young

Lloyd’s List, the bible of shipping news and intelligence, posthumously awarded Park Ji-Young one of shipping’s highest honors for a member of a ship’s crew — Seafarer of the Year — at its Global Awards ceremony Oct. 2 in London.

“Witness accounts — one after the other — told of Park Ji-Young’s bravery as she distributed life jackets and helped passengers escape the stricken ship,” Richard Meade, Lloyd’s List managing editor, said at the awards dinner. “When she ran out of life jackets, she went to the next floor to get more, and when asked why she wasn’t wearing one herself, witnesses say that she explained that her job was to help others first.”

The 479-foot Sewol sank April 16 as it carried 476 passengers — 325 of them high school students on a class trip — from Incheon to the resort island of Jiju. Sewol’s owner, captain, the ferry company’s chief executive and 14 of the 33 crew faced criminal charges after the sinking, which claimed more than 300 lives. The charges allege that the ship was unsafe; that the owner, executive, captain and key crew were negligent, causing the deaths; and that other crew abandoned ship before trying to save all of the passengers.

Park went to work for the ferry company in 2012, having quit college to support her mother and sister after her father died of cancer, CNN reported after interviews with relatives. Park was assigned to the Sewol six months before its sinking because she had proved to be a responsible and able seafarer, the family says.

The young South Korean had been working on the third deck, where the cafeteria and game rooms were and where many of the students were hanging out, when the ship began to take on water and list. Witnesses told reporters that Park passed out life jackets to passengers, calmed them down and gave her own PFD to one of the students from Danwon High School in Anson, South Korea. When the teens asked her what she would do without a life jacket, she said she wouldn’t leave the boat until every passenger was safely off. “After saving you, I will get out. The crew goes last,” she told them.

As the ship began to list precipitously and an open door became a hole that prevented passengers from getting out on deck, she closed the door, creating a bridge for passengers to escape. Later, as water rose chest-high on the young woman, she stood her ground while pushing passengers toward a door where they could get out on deck before the ship sank.

South Korea’s Ministry of Health and Welfare, which named Park and two other crewmembers who died — Jeong Hyon-seon and Kim Ki-woong — as martyred heroes, credited Park with saving 50 lives. Her body was one of the first that searchers recovered — without a life jacket.

“Park Ji-Young died that day, but many others survived because of her calm courage in a crisis,” Meade says. “Our industry salutes this 22-year-old woman, who exemplifies bravery, leadership and heroics. Her noble display of courage and self-sacrifice make her a most deserving winner of the 2014 Lloyd’s List Seafarer of the Year Award.”

The sinking South Korean ferry Sewol

The Sewol sank after making a sharp turn in powerful currents, which caused her to list and take on water. Investigators reported that the ship was carrying three times as much cargo as it should have been. The cargo wasn’t properly secured, so it shifted when the ship listed, and ballast in the keel had been removed, so the load line on the hull stayed above water despite the overloading, causing instability and the capsize.

Capt. Lee Jun-seok, his first and second mates, and chief engineer, all of whom were alleged to have known about the ship’s unsafe condition and to have abandoned ship while hundreds of passengers who later died remained on Sewol, were indicted on charges of homicide through gross negligence. The other 11 crewmembers were charged with abandoning ship and ship safety violations. Yoo Byung-eun, owner and chairman of Chonghaejin Marine, the ferry company, was found dead after a summons was issued for his arrest, and the chief executive, Kim Han-sik, was charged with causing death by negligence.

In naming Park the Seafarer of the Year, Lloyds List says she “exemplified all that is brave and good in the human spirit.”

December 2014 issue