Stop the casualties

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Stop the casualties

Instead of receiving more updates about the 16 bodies still missing from the Sewol ferry, we are told that a second civilian diver has died during the underwater search mission. Lee Min-seop, 44, was retrieved unconscious while trying to cut open windows to get into the submerged hull in search of the missing passengers. It was the second fatality among divers working at the scene since the ill-fated ferry sank off the southwestern coast with more than 300 people on board. So far, 288 bodies have been recovered. The government created a committee to better ensure the safety of the civilian divers, but that action was once again too late.

Chalk up one more failure to the government’s long and humiliating list of slow and botched responses to the country’s worst maritime disaster. The diver who died last week was not licensed and the countermeasures headquarters took a long time in identifying the victim, raising questions about how it managed people who were staking their lives in the rescue and salvage operation. The Coast Guard explained that it did not question Lee’s qualifications because he described himself as having more than 20 years of experience.

Journalists said divers rushed to the scene from all over the country in the early stages, but the rescue operation, having passed 50 days, has hit a snag amid scarcity of volunteers. There are even fewer people capable of handling the tricky and highly risky job of cutting their way through the hull and combing through the ship to find the remaining bodies.

The headquarters announced that divers working to cut off the outer hull panels will be equipped with electronic devices to ensure their safety. But the danger of casualties remains because a limited number of people have been doing the job for a lengthy period of time. Victim families have been shocked and devastated by the loss of civilian lives in the rescue mission. The government must come up with more practical measures so that the Sewol disaster does not generate more human losses.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 2, Page 30

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