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Choi Eun-soo, a truck driver who survived the 2014 Sewol ferry sinking, sits in his truck in Yongin, Gyeonggi Province, Thursday. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

The slogan “We will never forget,” frequently used in commemorations of the 2014 Sewol ferry sinking tragedy, underscores the importance of remembrance, particularly for those grappling with ongoing trauma from the nation’s worst peacetime disaster.However, for Choi Eun-soo, a truck driver who survived the tragic accident, the catchphrase appears to have already been forgotten, as government assistance for survivors to help overcome trauma has been halted, and there is diminished vigilance over safety alerts.”There’s no big difference between a year and a decade after the tragedy. I’ve struggled to sleep deeply for more than two hours since it occurred,” Choi said during an interview with The Korea Times in Yongin, Gyeonggi Province, Thursday.This year commemorates the 10th anniversary of the tragedy, which occurred on April 16, 2014. The 6,800-ton vessel sank in waters off the country’s southwest coast, claiming 304 lives. The majority of those lost were high school students on a four-day field trip to Jeju Island.Choi drove his truck onto the ferry that day, carrying cargo bound for the island as part of his routine duties.”Like other truck drivers, I was positioned at the rear of the ship with my truck. While I was outside smoking, I noticed the vessel tilting,” he said.His recollection of the accident was remarkably vivid, as though it transpired only yesterday. Describing the situation, he mentioned feeling an impact, which then caused it to tilt.”As the ship leaned, red containers toppled, and I grasped a handrail tightly to avoid falling,” he said, reflecting on the memory of that day.In the middle of the chaos, Choi assisted other passengers, including two women at the rear who were there taking photographs before the incident. Ultimately, he was rescued from the ship, after helping passengers, including fellow truck drivers, amid the chaos.”When I was rescued, there was no one else at the back of the ship, and a coast guard officer told me that everyone had been evacuated. But upon reaching the shelter on Jin Island, South Jeolla Province, I realized that many students were still trapped below deck,” he said.

He stopped working for three years, focusing on recovery and participating in events to advocate for a thorough investigation into the events surrounding the accident.Four years ago, Choi resumed working as a truck driver. However, the trauma from the accident continues to haunt him, particularly affecting his ability to sleep, especially when on the cargo ship leg of a delivery. This persistent challenge has plagued him for a decade.”I wake up every two hours since the accident,” he said.”Even the slightest sound wakes me, causing my body to tense up. I often take sleeping pills or have a drink to get to sleep.”Despite the lingering trauma, he continues to travel on a sea route to Jeju Island with his cargo truck, as he explained that he has no other choice to make a living.”I’ve reduced the frequency of these trips, particularly during March and April. This period is less busy and also it recalls vivid memories of the accident. So I usually take a break from work, choosing to relax at home instead,” Choi said.He also expressed profound concerns regarding the tragedy fading from public memory, emphasizing that the dilemma of whether to move on or continue mourning only adds to the hardships endured by survivors and bereaved families.Choi emphasized the significance of survivors’ testimonies in portraying the incident accurately. However, he lamented the lack of substantial changes despite retelling his story annually.This is exacerbated when seeing news of similar disasters, such as the Itaewon crowd crush that claimed 159 lives in 2022.”I find it challenging when I sense that there has been no progress after the accident and feel that people forget about the tragedy after a certain amount of time,” he said.The discontinuation of support presents a significant challenge as well. Initially, survivors had access to certain hospitals nationwide for both mental and physical treatment, with government backing for the first two to three years.However, this support has markedly diminished, leaving only one in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province, despite survivors being dispersed across the country.”There’s no ongoing assessment of survivors’ well-being. I hope there is a sustained social system dedicated to continuous 메이저 care for survivors,” Choi said.

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