TOKYO: The sinking of a South Korean ferry was a major disaster caused by inadequate safety awareness on the part of the company operating the vessel, its captain and his crew, in combination with their poor and unskilled response to the emergency.
More than a week has passed since the ferry Sewol sank in waters off Jindo, in southwestern South Korea. The confirmed death toll from the tragedy has exceeded 100. Rescuers are continuing a desperate search for close to 200 people who are still missing.
Many of the ferry’s passengers were students on a high school trip. Those close to the victims must, while stricken with grief, identify the bodies as they are recovered one after another from inside the ship.
One can hardly imagine the depth of agony currently being experienced by families and friends of those missing, as they maintain faint hopes for a miraculous survival.
The ferry capsized having listed to one side and lost the ability to right itself, following a sharp turn made shortly before the accident.
Because of strong currents, the area of sea surrounding the scene of the disaster was difficult to navigate. However, piloting the ferry at the time of the incident was a rookie third mate unfamiliar with this hazard.
After its purchase from Japan, the ship was refurbished to increase its seating capacity.
Suspicion has arisen that, at the time of the accident, the ferry may have been carrying freight in excess of the cargo weight declared prior to its departure.
There is reason to presume that the ship’s sharp turn may have caused its cargo to shift, knocking the vessel off balance and eventually causing it to capsize.
The South Korean authorities need to uncover the whole truth behind this latest disaster. There is no doubt that the inadequacy of the crew’s evacuation guidance for their passengers contributed to the massive casualty rate.
The captain and many crew members were rescued from the sinking ship before their passengers. Their only instruction to the passengers was to stay inside their cabins. Also, few lifeboats were used.
These factors suggest most passengers were left behind inside the sinking ferry, a situation that denied them the chance to escape from the vessel.
We believe South Koreans have good reason for their strong condemnation of irresponsible conduct by the caption and his crew.The captain and several crewmen have been arrested on suspicion of neglecting to rescue their passengers.
Some crew members have told investigators that they had not been trained on how to ensure the safety of passengers in the event of an emergency. If the shipping company attached so little importance to its crew’s training for evacuation guidance and other emergency measures aimed at securing the safety of passengers, it must be seen as a severe problem.
The administration of South Korean President Park Geun-hye has also drawn fire over this latest catastrophe.
In announcing the number of passengers rescued from the ferry, the authorities changed figures time and again. This, along with insensitive speech and behaviour by some senior government officials, has antagonised the South Korean public.
The South Korean government must be more careful in dealing with the situation. Japan is not exempt from the necessity to implement controls for safety and security.
With the Golden Week tourist season just around the corner, measures currently in place for the safety of domestic transportation facilities must be re-examined.
In the wake of the ferry disaster, the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry has instructed the passenger ship industry to re-confirm the safety of sea routes and procedures for emergency escape from vessels.
We hope those associated with the industry will rigorously inspect all aspects of the precautions adopted by passenger ship operators, looking for any possible deficiencies in their safety procedures.
For their part, individuals should not neglect efforts to protect their own lives when they board passenger ships by taking such steps as locating their life jackets.