A series of issues led ferry to sink

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A series of issues led ferry to sink

The April 16 Sewol ferry accident, which left nearly 300 people dead after it sank in waters off Korea’s southwestern coast, may have been caused by a series of problems and made worse by improper initial responses and the lack of a proper governmental response system, the Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI) said yesterday in its interim report.

The government watchdog said it will reprimand those who are responsible for the accident and also request that the government come up with systematic improvements.

The BAI pointed out that the accident occurred because the Sewol lacked the capacity to maintain stability due to insufficient safety measures and because the ferry was overloaded with cargo that was not properly secured.

At the time, the Incheon Regional Maritime Affairs and Port Administration permitted the Chonghaejin Marine Company, the ship’s operator, to renovate the ship based on a falsified enlargement plan, the BAI said. The Korean Register of Shipping, the agency that classifies and conducts safety inspections on ships, also approved of the ferry’s operation even though its stability did not meet standards.

The board added that the Incheon Coast Guard and the Korea Shipping Association also approved its operation after conducting inspections merely as a formality

It commented on authorities’ initial response, saying that there was confusion over jurisdiction and that rescuers did not properly respond in the early stages of the disaster.

The Jindo Vessel Traffic Service, which is tasked with monitoring vessels in its jurisdiction, could not immediately recognize that the Sewol ferry had made a swift turn and drifted from its trajectory. It was told by the Mokpo Coast Guard about the accident nearly 20 minutes later.

Additionally, the West Regional Headquarters of the Korea Coast Guard, which is supposed to have a 200-ton vessel or larger along the ferry’s course, only had a 100-ton vessel, which could not take an adequate number of rescuers to the accident scene.

“The coast guard neglected its duty to directly instruct the ferry’s captain to evacuate passengers until rescue helicopters and vessels reached the scene,” a BAI official said. “They also dispatched rescuers without explaining the situation.”

The board also mentioned that the coast guard did not fully understand the situation when rescuers arrived at the scene and saved only those who came out of the ship, without attempting to rescue those who were still trapped inside.

The official criticized the government’s response system saying, “The central disaster and safety countermeasures headquarters, which is the authority when it comes to disasters, lost the public’s trust because it lacked the ability to properly respond to the accident and could not propagate accurate information about the accident.”

The BAI conducted field audits on the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, the Korea Coast Guard and the Ministry of Security and Public Administration from May 14 to June 20 in regard to the Sewol accident and is currently finalizing the results.

It is reporting the results to the National Assembly today and plans to issue the report by mid-August.

BY KIM BONG-MOON [bongmoon@joongang.co.kr]

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