SEOUL, April 16 (Xinhua) -- South Korean civilians, politicians, religious figures and celebrities commemorated the third anniversary of the country's worst maritime disaster nationwide, visiting memorial altars and taking part in memorial events.
On April 16, 2014, the 6,825-ton passenger ferry Sewol capsized and sank off the country's southwestern island of Jindo, claiming 304 lives, mostly high school students on a school trip to the southern resort island of Jeju.
Among 476 passengers aboard the ill-fated vessel, only 172 were rescued. Nine people are still unaccounted for.
The vessel was raised from the seabed on March 23, almost three years after the incident. The salvaged ship has been transported to a port in Mokpo in South Jeolla province to search the nine missing passengers.
All the barbed-wire fences to block entrance into the Mokpo port, a security area, were filled with yellow ribbons, a symbol of the victims and their families.
About 10,000 civilians from across the country reportedly visited the port, tying yellow ribbons to the fences and hoping to recover the missing people as early as possible.
Lawmakers, government officials and civic group activists joined the memorial event. Memorial songs were sung, poems were read and cultural performances were conducted in memory of the disaster.
Religious rituals were also held on Easter holidays to commemorate the country's worst maritime tragedy.
Meanwhile, about 1,000 civilians participated in a separate memorial event held in the Paengmok harbor near the site of the incident off the Jindo Island. The participants flew away 304 yellow balloons to mourn the victims.
On the eve of the third anniversary, civilians visited memorial altars set up across the country. On Saturday night, about 100,000 people gathered in Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul to join a candlelight rally in memory of the Sewol ferry sinking.
Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon made his memorial speech, while popular singers conducted music performances at the rally, the first since March 25 when the last street demonstrations were held to celebrate the impeachment of former President Park Geun-hye.
Park was impeached on March 10 in a historic ruling to remove her from office. One of charges levied at Park was the initial bungling of rescue operations, which the constitutional court failed to adopt as one of reasons for the impeachment ruling.
Prosecutors determined the causes of the ferry sinking as an overloading, unsecured freight and sharp turn, but not a few people still raised doubts about why the large vessel sank so quickly and why the government failed to rescue so many passengers.
Park's whereabouts during the first seven hours on the day of the ferry sinking remains a mystery.
Four of the five major presidential candidates attended a memorial event, held in Ansan city where a high school of student victims is located. The event was joined by some 10,000 civilians including the bereaved families.
Moon Jae-in of the biggest Minjoo Party, a frontrunner in recent opinion surveys, condemned the Park Geun-hye government for trying to cover up the disaster, and vowed to get to the bottoms by re-launching a special investigation committee's probe into the incident.
Ahn Cheol-soo of the centrist People's Party, a runner-up to Moon in opinion polls, promised to unearth the truth behind the disaster and to make people responsible for it being held responsible.