Critical system malfunctionsThe April 16 Sewol ferry disaster, the nation’s worst maritime crisis that took nearly 300 lives, is Korea’s most shameful man-made calamity, caused by corrupt people and a corrupt system. The ferry’s owner, businessman Yoo Byung-eun, cared more about making money by putting as many passengers and cargo on the ship as possible than running it safely. Captain Lee Jun-seok and his crew were also the first to flee the sinking ship, failing to warn passengers or take any action to save them. Government officials were lazy, incompetent, sloppy and corrupt from decades-old underhanded ties with the business sector. In its comprehensive report on Tuesday, the Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI) also reconfirmed the structural and human errors behind the Sewol’s sinking.
The depth of government laxity is appalling: Safety was overlooked at every level. The Incheon Regional Maritime Affairs and Port Administration gave the Chonghaejin Marine Company’s blueprint to refit the Sewol ferry a stamp of approval, without first reviewing it. The Korea Register of Shipping in charge of examining ship safety inspections also failed to conduct necessary inspections. The Incheon Coast Guard approved the ship to go ahead even though it had obviously failed in safety regulations. The Korea Shipping Association, which inspects freight load, never found fault with the ferry, which habitually disregarded capacity limits. If any one of these government offices had done its job right, the Sewol ferry would not have sunk with so many passengers on board.
The rescue operation was equally dismal. The Coast Guard did not send a large ship to the disaster zone and instead sent small rescue boats that could only carry up to nine people. Even as the ship listed, the maritime police headquarters ordered coast guards to respond calmly.
Checks and balances make up the nuts and bolts of administration. Greedy and self-serving collusion and corruption between officialdom and industry completely wiped out these fundamental principles. Coast guard officials were routinely entertained by shipping companies. The Coast Guard in Jeju and the fire department office in South Jeolla sat on their hands saying the accident did not fall into their jurisdictions. The BAI report shed clear light on the evils of our public system that need to be uprooted.
JoongAng Ilbo, July 9, Page 30