Good captains don’t abandon shipIn times of crisis and major disaster, the scope of damage - especially human lives - is consistent with the people in command. In July last year, Asiana Flight 214 crashed while landing at San Francisco International Airport after its tail came off while it was touching down on the runaway. Three people died, but 305 others were saved without any major injuries, thanks to fast-acting attendants.
On ships, the role of the captain is crucial. The sinking of the Titanic in the North Atlantic Ocean in 1912 has been one of the deadliest peacetime maritime disasters in modern history, which caused deaths of more than 1,500 people. But about 70 percent of female and over half of underage passengers survived.
The survival ratio of women in British maritime accidents over the last century stopped at 15.3 percent. But the Titanic was exceptional because its captain held a gun in his hand to force men to make way for women and children and help them get on the lifeboats first.
According to a study by researchers at Uppsala University in Sweden, which examined the records of ship accidents from 1852 until 2011 that had death tolls of more than 100, the survival rate was highest among the crew - 61.1 percent - and captains 43.8 percent. Men followed with 37.4 percent and women and children fared worst - 26.7 percent and 15.3 percent, respectively.
Passengers’ lives are always sacrificed when crew members try to help themselves first.
On the doomed Sewol ferry that sank in waters off the coast of Jindo County, South Jeolla, while carrying 475 people, mostly high school students on a four-day school trip to Jeju Island, the crew - including the captain and the chief mate - were the first to jump off the sinking ship. Only one 22-year-old female attendant stayed behind to deliver safety instructions.
The whereabouts of the students and other passengers who followed the crew’s repeated orders to stay inside the ship are still unknown. If the captain and his crew did all they could during the two hours before the ferry completely capsized, most of the passengers could have been saved.
The crew had neither the capacity to act in a crisis nor a sense of responsibility. Local regulations are hardly harsh enough to raise awareness on passenger safety, and penalties are exceptionally light. A ferry accident in Chungju in 1994 caused 25 deaths, and the people responsible were indicted for assault. However, they were pardoned and placed on probation. The service sector dealing with people’s lives must be fully awake and warned with merciless penalty. Shipping companies must repeat drills until their crew can react automatically to crisis with aptitude and confidence.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 18, Page 30