South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon burns incense at a memorial altar for the missing victims of the 2014 ferry disaster at a funeral facility in Ansan on Saturday. Photo by Yonhap
MOKPO, South Korea, Nov. 18 (UPI) -- Families of five missing victims of the 2014 ferry sinking held a joint memorial service on Saturday after their bodies could not be recovered after a months-long search.
The ceremony for the missing victims, including two high school students and a teacher, was held at a port in Mokpo, some 255 miles south of Seoul, where the hull of the sunken Sewol ferry sits after being retrieved from the sea earlier this year.
The 6,800-ton Sewol ferry that sank on April 16, 2014, in waters off the country's southwest coast claimed the lives of 304 people, most of them teenage students on a school trip.
A team of rescue workers had sought to find nine missing victims since early April when the hull was raised from the bottom of the sea and put into a dry dock at the port. But only the bodies of four victims were found.
A funeral car carrying items left by the victims went around the hull, according to participants.
The service was attended by a group of families of the ferry incident, Oceans Minister Kim Young-choon and others.
The memorial altars for three of the missing victims were set up at a funeral center in Ansan, 26 miles southwest of Seoul, while another for the others was in Seoul. President Moon Jae-in sent wreaths to the bereaved families, while Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon visited the altars separately.
"The entire nation grieves [over their passings]. All may feel the same way in expressing our condolences," a presidential official told Yonhap News Agency, declining to be named.
The country's ruling and opposition parties expressed their condolence to the missing victims, saying that such a disaster should not occur again.
"It is very regrettable that the five victims could not come to the arms of their families," said Rep. Je Youn-kyung, a spokeswoman for the ruling Minjoo Party. "It is also regrettable that the truth behind the sinking has not come out for long."
She called on opposition parties to approve the passage of a special law aimed at investigating the disaster which will be put on the table for vote.
Jun Hee-kyung, a spokeswoman for the main opposition Liberty Korea Party, said that party will make efforts to prevent such a tragic incident from occurring in the country.