Ministry’s connection to shipping agencies eyed

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Ministry’s connection to shipping agencies eyed

The revolving door between Korea’s Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries and shipping-related agencies responsible for safety checkups has become a worrisome trend in the aftermath of the Sewol ferry disaster, and it has the potential to contribute to lax safety monitoring on ships, analysts say.

The validity of ships’ safety regulations came into question after it was revealed that the Sewol ferry, which capsized April 16 off the southwestern coast, leaving more than 100 people dead and even more still unaccounted for, received good ratings in a safety test conducted earlier this year by the Korean Register of Shipping and the Korea Shipping Association.

Some suggest that former Oceans Ministry officials who go on to take over high-ranking positions at shipping groups could shield their institutes from the state scrutiny.

“Many public and private organizations are eager to hire influential veteran officials from the ministry,” said Lee Chang-won, a professor of public administration at Hansung University. “They do so because [those officials’] influence can protect those groups from strong government inspection. But the drawbacks of the practice will be passed on to the public. I believe that the fatal ferry accident is not a separate issue with this.”

President Park Geun-hye also raised concerns earlier this week about possible connections and their effect on the industry.

“The Korea Shipping Association’s executive position has been held by different officials from the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries for 38 years,” the president said on Tuesday. “We need to look into whether this has led to a cozy relationship between the ministry and the association.”

The Korea Shipping Association is an interest group that represents shipping companies and owners. The current chairman of the board there is Joo Sung-ho, a former vice minister of land, transport and maritime affairs, which is now the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport. Since 1978, all its board chairmen have come from the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries or its predecessor.

Kim Gyu-seob, the current head of division tasked with conducting safety tests for ships at the Korean Register of Shipping, a private nonprofit organization and the country’s only shipping classification society, served as the head of the maritime industry and technology division at the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries.

And the current president of the Korean Register of Shipping, Chon Young-kee, doesn’t have a former career path in the ministry, though eight out of 10 of the organization’s presidents so far once held positions there.

But some argue that since the organization was established with the funds invested by a group of shipping companies, it is not appropriate for the Korean Register of Shipping to be conducting such tests because of the potential for bias. Analysts say that such a movement can lead to an unhealthy relationship between the government and the private sector, with the negative effects ranging from the granting of reciprocated privileges to bribery.

According to research earlier this year by Kim Han-pyo, a Saenuri Party lawmaker on the Trade, Industry and Energy Committee at the National Assembly, 69 senior government officials from the Industry Ministry landed executive-level positions last year at private groups and research institutes.

BY PARK EUN-JEE [ejpark@joonang.co.kr]



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