SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Three crew members on the doomed South Korean ferry were designated as martyrs on Monday for giving their lives to save others as the ship was sinking nearly a month ago.
The heroic actions of the three who died contrast sharply with the accusations against other crew, 15 of whom have been arrested on suspicion of negligence, and accusations against the ferry owner.
The martyr designation by the Welfare Ministry means the three can be buried in a national cemetery and their bereaved families will be eligible for financial compensation and medical assistance.
A statement on the ministry website described the actions of 22-year-old Park Ji-young, 28-year-old Kim Ki-woong and 28-year-old Jung Hyun-seon.
Park, a female contract worker, helped calm people, handed out life vests and helped passengers get on a rescue boat. A witness was quoted as saying Park gave up her life vest for a student, and said, "I will get out after rescuing you all."
Kim Ki-woong, a part-time worker, and Jung Hyun-seon, a clerical crew, were recognized for helping the passengers' escape while they themselves were not rescued. Local media earlier had reported that the couple planned to marry later this year.
"They were together for four years," Kim's mother, Kim Kwang-sook, told Yonhap news agency last month. "I only hope the two of them will be happy in a nice place. ... My heart is about to burst."
Only 172 people, including 22 of the 29 crew members, survived the April 16 disaster. All 15 surviving crew members involved in the ferry's navigation have been arrested on suspicion of negligence and failing to protect passengers.
Also on Monday, the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries revoked the operating license of ferry owner Chonghaejin Marine Co. Ltd. for the Incheon-Jeju route, the same route of the Sewol.
An officer at the Incheon Regional Maritime Affairs & Port Administration said the license was canceled because the company was responsible for the worst maritime accident in South Korea's history, and also because the company did not carry out proper relief efforts. The official spoke on condition of anonymity, citing office rules.
Bad weather was keeping divers from searching the deteriorating vessel for a third day. No bodies have been recovered since Friday; 29 passengers remain missing, with 275 bodies recovered so far, most of them students from a single high school south of Seoul.
Coast guard official Yang Jong-ta said the search would resume as soon as the waves calmed.