Don’t push the divers

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Don’t push the divers

A diver died yesterday on a mission to search for those still missing inside the sunken ferry off the southwest coast. The death of Lee Kwang-ok, the diver who came to Paengmok Harbor Tuesday on the government’s order to mobilize civilian divers for the rescue mission, makes us wonder if the government blindly pressed ahead with the campaign without considering divers’ safety at all.

Lee reportedly lost consciousness five minutes after diving into the sea after being contracted by Undine Marine Industries, a private maritime salvage company on a contract with the Korea Coast Guard and the Chonghaejin Marine Company, which operated the ferry.

Civilian divers have been risking their lives to search for the missing under the worst circumstances. The waters where the ferry sank three weeks ago are notorious for turbulent currents, high waves and ultra-low visibility. Even in such harsh circumstances, no divers have insisted on the rule calling for at least a 12-hour rest after a dive. And the desperate atmosphere on the spot does not allow them to follow even the basic rules for their own survival. Due to an excessive push, as many as 17 divers have so far received medical treatment for physical injuries or decompression illness from their life-and-death missions.

Even as a wide array of analyses attribute the unprecedented tragedy at sea to a fatal lack of safety awareness and systems, there are no manuals that can assure complete safety. But in this case, even the most basic precautions in rescue efforts are being thrown to the wind. If such a dangerous situation continues, we cannot rule out the possibility of another type of tragedy unfolding before our eyes.

Of course, it is urgent to search for and salvage the remains of the victims trapped in the ship. But the health of the divers who are risking their lives is also precious. Not only the government, but all of us must learn a lesson from the regrettable death of this single diver. We must do some serious soul searching if we ever take the perilous mission of divers for granted. We must ask ourselves if we are the ones demanding such devotion - at a cost of their own lives. The government plans to exert all possible efforts to search for the victims until Saturday. No matter how important the mission, however, it must refrain from pushing efforts at the risk of divers’ lives. We hope no more lives are taken by this tragedy.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 7, Page 30
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