Good captains don’t abandon ship

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Good captains don’t abandon ship

In times of crisis and major disaster, the scope of damage - especially human lives - is consistent with the people in command. In July last year, Asiana Flight 214 crashed while landing at San Francisco International Airport after its tail came off while it was touching down on the runaway. Three people died, but 305 others were saved without any major injuries, thanks to fast-acting attendants.

On ships, the role of the captain is crucial. The sinking of the Titanic in the North Atlantic Ocean in 1912 has been one of the deadliest peacetime maritime disasters in modern history, which caused deaths of more than 1,500 people. But about 70 percent of female and over half of underage passengers survived.

The survival ratio of women in British maritime accidents over the last century stopped at 15.3 percent. But the Titanic was exceptional because its captain held a gun in his hand to force men to make way for women and children and help them get on the lifeboats first.

According to a study by researchers at Uppsala University in Sweden, which examined the records of ship accidents from 1852 until 2011 that had death tolls of more than 100, the survival rate was highest among the crew - 61.1 percent - and captains 43.8 percent. Men followed with 37.4 percent and women and children fared worst - 26.7 percent and 15.3 percent, respectively.

Passengers’ lives are always sacrificed when crew members try to help themselves first.

On the doomed Sewol ferry that sank in waters off the coast of Jindo County, South Jeolla, while carrying 475 people, mostly high school students on a four-day school trip to Jeju Island, the crew - including the captain and the chief mate - were the first to jump off the sinking ship. Only one 22-year-old female attendant stayed behind to deliver safety instructions.

The whereabouts of the students and other passengers who followed the crew’s repeated orders to stay inside the ship are still unknown. If the captain and his crew did all they could during the two hours before the ferry completely capsized, most of the passengers could have been saved.

The crew had neither the capacity to act in a crisis nor a sense of responsibility. Local regulations are hardly harsh enough to raise awareness on passenger safety, and penalties are exceptionally light. A ferry accident in Chungju in 1994 caused 25 deaths, and the people responsible were indicted for assault. However, they were pardoned and placed on probation. The service sector dealing with people’s lives must be fully awake and warned with merciless penalty. Shipping companies must repeat drills until their crew can react automatically to crisis with aptitude and confidence.

JoongAng Ilbo, April 18, Page 30

대형 재난에선 현장 지휘자에 따라 피해규모가 달라진다. 2년 전 샌프란시스코 공항 아시아나 항공기 착륙사고 당시 3명이 사망했지만 승무원들의 일사불란한 위기대응으로 인명 피해를 최소화했다. 선박 사고에선 선장의 역할이 결정적이다. 대형 해상사고였던 영국 타이태닉호의 경우 여성과 어린이 생존률은 각 70%와 50%를 넘었다. 지난 100여 년 동안 영국 선적의 대형 해상사고에서 여성 생존률은 15.3%였지만 이 사고는 예외였다. 당시 선장이 구명보트 앞에 총을 들고 서서 먼저 타려는 남성들을 제지하고 여성과 아이들을 구한 결과다. 스웨덴 웁살라 대학 연구진이 1852년부터 2011년까지 100명 이상 인명피해가 난 해상사고를 분석한 결과에 따르면 대형 사고에선 승무원 생존률이 승객보다 높았다. 생존률은 승무원(61.1%),선장(43.8%), 남성(37.4%), 여성(26.7%),어린이(15.3%) 순이었다. 승무원이 먼저 살고자 하는 한 대규모 피해를 피할 수 없다.
이번 '세월호' 침몰 사고에선 선장과 항해사 등 승무원들이 가장 먼저 탈출했다. "승무원이 가장 나중"이라며 승객 구조를 한 건 22살의 어린 여승무원뿐이었다. "그 자리에 있으라"는 말만 남기고 승무원들이 탈출한 사이 지시를 따르고 질서를 지켰던 많은 어린 학생과 시민들은 지금 생사 확인이 안 된다. 배가 가라앉기까지 두 시간여. 선장이 승객 구조에 나섰다면 400여 명을 못 구할 시간은 아니었다.
이는 위기 대응 능력과 책임감조차 없었기 때문이다. 우리나라 법은 경각심을 주기엔 처벌규정이 약하고, 실제 처벌은 더 가볍다. 한 예로 1994년 충주호 유람선 사고 당시 관련 당사자들은 과실치사로 기소됐지만 법원은 집행유예 등을 선고해 실형을 면해줬다. 한편 이탈리아 검찰은 2년 전 여객선 '코스타 콩코르디아호' 좌초 당시 배를 버렸던 선장에게 2697년을 구형했다. 법집행은 관련 종사자들의 정신이 번쩍 들만큼 이뤄져야 하고, 선박사는 위기 대응 능력이 몸에 밸 때까지 훈련해야 이런 참사가 반복되지 않을 것이다.
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