We are dumbfounded. As Korea’s largest ferry, the Sewol, with 475 passengers aboard, capsized Wednesday, only two of its 42 inflatable lifeboats were used and a number of passengers did not get life jackets. No one had told them how to respond to an accident. The captain of the ship and his crew escaped the ferry first, leaving the passengers behind. The passengers were only told to stay in their seats, even though they would have had enough time - nearly two hours - to evacuate. If the captain and crew had done anything at all, they could have significantly reduced the death toll.
The chaotic situation the survivors told the media suggests a fatal lack of understanding on how to cope with an emergency and what to do to protect the safety of passengers. If a ferry of that magnitude is still vulnerable to such contingencies, no one can guarantee the safety of other ships in other areas.
The way the government reacted to the crisis is also disappointing. It failed to grasp the seriousness of the accident from the start and didn’t know how many were rescued or missing. We are deeply frustrated by the shipping company and the government. A competent government would have a detailed manual for such emergencies. Given all these things, this is a disaster caused by a fatal lack of safety procedures and awareness. Simply put, it is a man-made disaster.
The government must find out what really caused the accident and punish those responsible for the mishap. It should come up with a white paper on all the aspects of the disaster. The document must include all the problems our society and government have with regards to the issue of public safety and suggest a new direction for advanced safety systems. Based on that paper, the government must prepare - and execute - mid- and long-term measures to upgrade our safety systems and procedures, including food and health issues as well. The government must learn a lesson from the tragedy before the next disaster comes.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 18, Page 30