During a meeting in a gymnasium on Jindo Island in South Korea between Coast Guard officials and families of those on board the recently capsized ferry, one family member brought up a circulating rumor that the South Korean government had refused search and rescue support from neighboring Japan.
According to reports from Japan’s Sankei MSN, an official was updating the victims’ families as to the progress of the search efforts. It was during this presentation that someone asked, “I hear that you turned down an offer of search support from the Japanese. Is that true?”
Following the question the room reportedly erupted into a clamor. The man on stage responded by saying, “This is the first I’ve heard of it. I will have to look into that before answering.”
There is certainly no love lost towards Japan’s Self-Defense Forces (SDF) from South Korea following decades of colonial occupation and allegations of several human rights violations. However, most would agree that during times of extreme emergency such as this, diplomatic tensions should be put aside.
On the 18th of April, Japanese Minister of Defense, Itsunori Onodera announced that Marine SDF divers and minesweepers were set up to be dispatched. According to Yomiuri Online, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent a message to South Korean President Park Geun-hye on 17 April stating, “We would like to express our condolences and sympathy. Japan is prepared to provide the necessary support.”
During a press conference, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga said that at a meeting between South Korea and Japan’s Coast Guard it was revealed that the Korean side refused assistance. Other Japanese officials had said that the South Korean Coast Guard replied, “We very much appreciate the offer, but currently, we have no special need for assistance.”
Beyond these remarks there has been no official statement from the South Korean or Japanese governments confirming that help was deliberately refused. Nevertheless rumors continue to run rampant. We can only hope that this is a situation where search and rescue teams are too over-manned, over-equipped, or busy to be able to handle anyone’s help.