Ferry crisis highlights daily dangersThe tragic sinking of the Sewol ferry and the loss of hundreds of teenage lives served as a rude awakening, shining a light on our poor safety awareness. This disaster begs us to turn our eyes toward the potential risks and dangers all around us.
The government must first of all assuage public jitters about the reliability of ferryboats, many of which are overused and unsafe. According to 2013 data, out of 173 car ferries in operation, 50, or 29 percent, are older than the 20-year-old Sewol.
In documents secured from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport by Saenuri Party Representative Joo Young-soon, 63.2 percent of ferryboats bought from overseas since the government eased the limit on ship age (from 20 years to 30 years) were more than 15 years old.
In South Korea, which regards itself a shipbuilding powerhouse, 21 percent of registered ferries are overage, imported vessels. They mostly carry large holiday groups and run on popular routes between the mainland and the southern and eastern islands of Jeju and Ulleung.
Schools are another unsafe place. According to one report, 133 elementary, middle and high school buildings were classified last year as risky, danger-prone facilities after failing in safety standard tests. Some are no longer in use or preparing to move out, but some still accommodate students due to poor budgeting.
There are many worn-down commercial buildings where children have music or academic lessons or where consumers frequently shop. Many of these facilities are not equipped with emergency exits or fire extinguishers. Some youth training centers that accommodate large groups of children do not have any safety infrastructure. We live in a society brimming with potential dangers and risks.
Before the government gets itself all riled up about creating a new government office in charge of public safety, it should use its current administrative resources to go across the nation to thoroughly examine and supervise safety levels. What the government must provide is public service on foot and in action.
It should sweat to atone and make amends for its follies and its dismal inaction in response to the Sewol ferry crisis, which enraged and disappointed the entire nation, and try to recover its credibility and reputation among the people.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 2, Page 30.