A fatal dereliction of duty

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A fatal dereliction of duty

The Korea Coast Guard’s botched rescue attempts and the rampant corruption at shipping-related industries and associations were all laid bare as prosecutors investigating the Sewol ferry disaster proceeded with parliamentary hearings.

Coast Guard officials at the vessel traffic service office on Jindo, who received the first distress calls from the Sewol ferry as it began to violently list on April 16, are suspected of having erased CCTV video records to hide their negligence, according to prosecutors at the Gwangju district office. When prosecutors raided the nearest vessel traffic service in Jindo a few days after the ferry completely sank, the office only had CCTV footage from one month prior. The flash drive that coast guards claimed to have copied the CCTV files onto was also devoid of information. Prosecutors have been looking into the negligence of the Coast Guards on duty and suspect the delay could have come from a higher level at the maritime police. The ferry tried to contact the Coast Guard for help twice, but response from the VTS came after 18 minutes.

The Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries and related organizations - the Korea Register of Shipping and the Korea Shipping Association - came under scrutiny at the hearing by the legislative special committee for the Sewol crisis. Officials were grilled on how they managed to fumble on the initial number of those rescued. They were also questioned about their actions throughout the rescue mission, as well as lax safety supervision and collusion among regulating bodies and the shipping industries. The ministry came under heavy attack for failing to enforce tougher regulations after discovering major problems in overall safety standards regarding maritime infrastructure and the ships in operation. Oceans and Fisheries Minister Lee Ju-young apologized for his ministry’s incompetence, but no apology can undo the monstrous harm already done. If government officials and regulating bodies had done their job properly, nearly 300 students and others would still be alive today.

The truth must be uncovered and liabilities must be paid. Why government officials and the Coast Guard did not do their jobs must be clarified to prevent another accident. Prosecutors and the legislative investigating team must stave off any political motive and get to the bottom of the story. It will be a small comfort to the victims’ families.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 2, Page 30

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