Ensuring safety at sea

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Ensuring safety at sea

A huge death toll from the sinking of the Korean trawler Oryong 501 in the freezing waters of the western Bering Sea with 60 crewmen on board on Monday may be inevitable. Eight were rescued after the fishing ship owned by Sajo Industries, a Korean canned tuna company, sank off the eastern coast of Russia Monday afternoon.

One Korean died shortly after being rescued and 52 remain missing while search and rescue operations were plagued by harsh weather and sea conditions. Among the missing are 10 Koreans, 32 Indonesians, and 10 Filipinos. International cooperation in the rescue and salvage mission is essential as the disaster took place in foreign waters with foreigners involved.

The government must seek international support including from Russia and the United States and try its best to search for missing crewmen who are mostly foreigners.

More investigation is necessary to find the cause of the sinking, but human error is a possibility. The 36-year-old, 1,753-ton deep-sea fishing vessel had been fishing for pollock off the coast of Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula against strong winds and waves that were 4 to 5 meters (13 to 16 feet) high.

To fish in the freezing tumultuous waters of the Bering Sea, scientific and thorough safety precautions are essential.

The government must investigate whether the vessel was fully equipped with safety kits and a safety system.

Of the 308 registered Korean deep-sea fishing vessels, 235, or 76 percent, were more than 25 years old as of the end of last year. It was reported during a parliamentary audit in 2010 that of the13 accidents involving deep-sea fishing vessels in the past five years, 10 ships were more than 30 years old and three were 20 to 30 years old.

The government should have closely examined the safety standards of deep-sea fishing vessels and come up with stricter guidelines according to changes in the international fishing environment.

What’s most important for now is quickly responding to the victims and families. The families must be kept informed of new developments all the time. The government should establish a hotline between families and the company that owns the ship. Public officials should be dispatched to assist the families in every way. The entire government offices - the Foreign Ministry, Oceans Affairs Ministry and Ministry of Public Safety and Security - should demonstrate their ability to work closely to carry out an organized response.

JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 3, Page 34

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