A repeat of the Sewol tragedyThe more we learn about the sinking over the weekend of a chartered recreational fishing boat in waters off Jeju Island, the more demoralized we feel over the fact that more lives could have been saved. It raises questions about what we have learned since the Sewol ferry crisis on April 16, 2014. The Coast Guard’s security center failed to check up on the 9.77-ton Dolphin, even after it lost contact during poor weather conditions. And the boat’s navigation tracking system, which allows the Coast Guard to follow a vessel’s path in real-time, had been turned off for more than an hour.
Because the ship was not far from shore, it wouldn’t have been difficult to track had the Coast Guard acted fast. In fact, it only began to communicate with the doomed boat after the captain of another boat reported the loss in communication. When the search finally began, the Coast Guard was led elsewhere because its device that predicts the locations of vessels in trouble led officials to the wrong place. So it ended up spending 11 hours searching in the wrong area in complete darkness until a fishing boat eventually found the capsized Dolphin.
The Coast Guard lamely explained that it didn’t have time to fetch the marine flares installed at the helicopter center at the Coast Guard’s headquarters. Even if weather conditions did not allow helicopters to fly, rescue boats should have been equipped with launchers and aerial flares. Once again, even after the Sewol ferry disaster, it is admitting that it isn’t properly prepared for emergency rescues.
Civilians remain equally ignorant about safety awareness. The first fishing boat returned to the dock because the weather and water conditions were worsening, but the ill-fated Dolphin went on sailing. The captain and passengers should have worn life jackets and prepared for a rough sail, but they did not. A fake phone call by someone, who had not been on the boat but was on the passenger list, answered a call by the Coast Guard and claimed the boat was fine, which also led rescue delays.
The accident should serve as a red flag for recreational fishers - who number more than six million - and the crew of the more than 4,000 boats chartered to carry such passengers. All fishing boats are required to submit a list of passengers, but many skip these procedures out of pure convenience. Civilians themselves must put safety first.
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 8, Page 34