Gov’t oversight must increaseA complete investigation must be carried out into whether safety regulations on passenger ferries have been enforced and how much blame the government should take for its lax oversight to determine the fundamental cause of the Sewol disaster. If the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries and its umbrella supervising and licensing organizations had done their work, the Sewol ferry would not have been repeatedly remodeled or permitted to set sail overcapacity. The ministry has bestowed the Korea Register of Shipping with the authority to inspect the function and safety of various vessels.
If the Korea Shipping Association had done its job of examining the freight and safety gear, the Sewol would never have made its ill-fated sail. The overloading of cargo and the refurbishing the ship’s interior are suspected to be the causes of what made the ship list when it made a sharp turn. Long-term shady connections between the shipping industry and associations whose executive positions were traditionally reserved for officials in the maritime ministry were responsible for the random licensing and lax safety regulations. Conflict of interest, collusion and corruption at the expense of public safety passed inspection by the legislative and state auditors. Negligence and disregard for safety have long been condoned to feed a culture of cozy personal ties that blurred the lines between businesses and regulators.
The Board of Audit and Inspection embarked on an extensive investigation of the ministry, Coast Guard and the regulating associations. Even though the Korea Register of Shipping is a public entity, it has not been investigated in the past 10 years. The state watchdog began ship safety inspections a month after the ferry sank with more than 300 people on board. Why authorities announced that all passengers on the ship were rescued in the first hours after it capsized also must be explained. So many on the sunken ship died due to the delayed rescue mission.
Safety regulations and strict enforcement must never be compromised to prevent further disasters. Private experts must be recruited for a new inspection. Many in the U.S. Government Accountability Office charged with auditing and evaluation of government programs and activities are professional accountants, lawyers and public-policy watchers. The BOA is in charge of audits, evaluations and supervision of public entities. If we can rely on the agency to keep a strict watch over administrative activities, our society will become safer and more transparent.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 17, Page 30