Business

Sewol salvage raises hopes of better business

JINDO: When South Korea's Sewol ferry sank three years ago killing more than 300 people, it also devastated businesses close to the wreck site.

Now, owners hope its salvage will herald a change in their fortunes.

The ship went down in an archipelago off southwestern South Korea, whose 1,700 islands make up the Dadohaehaesang national park.

Rocky outcrops dot the waters, while bigger ones offer beautiful beaches, hiking trails, and accommodation with scenic ocean views, along with temples and seasonal festivals.

At a harbour on the southern side of Jindo, the closest large island to the wreck, motorboats used to be chartered for marine trips by fishermen and tourists. Now they lie tied to the dock and their owners sit idle nearby.

Business was down by half, said captain Park Tae Il, as anglers - his main clients - avoided the area.

"Fishermen call it the devil's water," he said.

"The atmosphere is cold because so many young lives were lost."

The sinking is one of South Korea's worst maritime accidents and most of the victims were schoolchildren.

More visitors than ever before come to Jindo, said local official Choi Min Woo - more than 100 every weekend, but instead of staying in the area, they pay their respects at a shrine and leave. This has crippled tourist businesses.

Ms Lim Jung Sook opened a guesthouse on the island just a year before the accident.

In her first year, she charged US$300 (S$420) a night for a two-bedroom cabin in peak season and all her rooms were full, she said.

But business plunged after the disaster and even a 50 per cent price cut failed to attract customers.

"Even my friends refuse to come, saying they are not comfortable vacationing wearing sunglasses and straw hats in such a subdued atmosphere," Ms Lim said.

Jindo is now trying to recover from its image as the "devil's island".

Business owners hope that last week's successful raising of the wreck will herald a revival for their enterprises.- AFP

South KoreaTourismEconomy